Your brain, conductor of circadian rhythm

Circadian rhythm is a critical force in the human body. It regulates your sleep cycle and dictates when you feel alert and when you feel tired. “Circadian” translates to “around the day” in Latin, and it’s often mentioned in UP Insights.

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October’s Insight Report examined this force by comparing wake times to the number of steps a person takes in a day. Would an individual take more steps after sleeping in on Sunday? Fewer steps after an all-nighter at the office? It depends on how the circadian rhythm responds.

First, remember that your body is a machine. It’s constantly taking care of business, even when you are sitting on the couch. Sometimes it’s digesting. Sometimes it’s repairing muscle. Sometimes it’s burning fat.

But one of the most important things your body accomplishes in its 24-hour cycle, is the move from a sleeping state to a waking state. This event affects your daily productivity, digestion, learning, metabolism and many other critical functions.

The conductor of the orchestra is in the brain. An area of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) works hard to keep the body on track, on time and in line. The SCN conducts your circadian rhythm.

Your environment and the decisions you make also affect the rhythm. If you choose to eat a pint of ice cream right before bed, your conductor  (the brain) tells the body to start digesting the sugar and fat instead of telling the body to relax for bed. It may become difficult to fall asleep. If you choose to sleep in on Saturday, the conductor slows the rhythm down, pushing back other processes. The result can mimic jet lag.

Jason Donahue, Jawbone’s resident sleep expert, says that the circadian rhythm “does a lot more than just tell the body when to be more alert or more sleepy. It also influences the ideal time to do certain activities. Assuming all things normal, if someone sleeps from 11:00pm to 7:00am, they will be most alert around 10:00am. That makes 10:00am an ideal time to write code, do analytical work, or anything else that requires more brainpower.”

Donahue continues, “That same person will have the fastest reaction time at 3:30pm, making the afternoon ideal for sports like tennis and basketball. That person may feel the strongest at 5pm, making the early evening an ideal time to visit the weight room.”

The circadian rhythm even influences ideal times to take medication, eat meals and work productively. As many discovered with October’s Insight Report, bedtime and rise time also influence steps and activity.

For some, an earlier rise time was correlated with more steps during the day:

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For others, a later wake time resulted in more steps:

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No matter what time you prefer to rise, it’s important to establish a routine that stabilizes your rhythm. As Donahue notes, “a ‘yo-yoing’ circadian rhythm is tied to obesity, depression and heart disease.”

Establish your own natural rhythm with your choices. Don’t eat too much before bed. Try a sport in the afternoon, when hand-eye coordination and strength is at its best. Wake up at the same time every day.

Make these good practices habit; and may the circadian force be with you.

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About The Author

Jessica Caimi

Jessica breathes, moves, eats and writes. She is also particular about comma usage.