The Caveman Had it Right: Our Body’s Internal Clock
Modern man, in the grand scheme of evolution, is but a blip on the radar, yet for some reason we think we can outsmart millions of years of human development without any consequences. Just as the sun balances the moon and day balances night, so must we live in balance with these rhythms in order to really achieve optimal health. Here is where I believe the caveman had it right.
Before mankind was motivated by deadlines and enslaved by technology 24/7, the caveman worked during daylight hours and slept when it was dark outside. This simple concept is now what’s known as the Circadian rhythm, or the body’s daily cycle. Just as earth would be greatly impacted if the sun never set, or if it was always night, when we as humans are disconnected from the earth’s natural patterns, we disrupt and confuse our bodies on a deeply physiological level. While this schedule might sound archaic and out of touch with the demands of modern life, following the caveman’s lead could actually lead you to your best life
Circadian rhythm disruption impacts sleep, hunger, and energy. Dr. Satchin Panda is a leading scientist in Circadian studies. For years, he has examined how molecules, genes, and cells keep the body on the same circadian clock. He discovered that, “a section of the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) lies at the center of the body’s master clock and gets input directly from light sensors in the eyes, keeping the rest of the body on schedule.” Dr. Panda has drawn a connection between how these light sensors pick up on the blue light found in mobile devices, and the impact it has on our sleep. Simply put, when our bodies sense light, albeit artificial, it is sending a message to your brain that it’s not yet time to rest.
Dr. Panda also found links between disruption of our Circadian rhythms and weight gain, inflammation, and cancer. Ultimately, Panda’s research concludes that unbalanced circadian rhythms have lasting effects on health and specifically sleep.
So, can looking back to “caveman days” actually propel us forward to a better way of living? The great news is yes! You have the power to reset your internal body clock. First, we must look at our behavior and how we define “productivity.” Many “productive” people get tons of work done at night; we respond to emails, catch up on marketing strategies, surf social media, and obsess over our calendars. But what many don’t realize is that this very practice of “productivity” reaps negative rewards. The junk light, or dirty electricity, that is expelled through phones, laptops, or tablets is your body’s primary enemy when it comes to circadian rhythm regulation, nighttime metabolic functioning, and healthy sleep. You see, the body has two specific operating systems: AM functions and PM functions. When it is light outside, your body has a checklist of things to do that differ from its nighttime checklist. If we allow ourselves to be surrounded by light, even when the sun has gone down, our PM mode will be disrupted and health and vitality are negatively impacted.
The good news is that you can reset your circadian rhythms with a few simple alterations to your daily routine. I think of it as wake up, get up, power down, wind down:
1) Wake up, Get up: Follow the patterns of natural light; when the sun rises, so do you. Intentionally expose your eyes to the natural light as a way of alerting your body that it’s time to wake up.
2) Power Down, Wind Down: While not everyone will be able to go to sleep at sundown, start winding down by eliminating those external “messages” in your environment that tell your body it’s still daytime. For example, eliminate artificial “junk light” by powering down the television, computers, cell phones, harsh lights, and other electronic stimuli. Avoid eating late at night which revs your body up rather that winding it down. Create new habits by finding relaxing activities such as listening to music, jotting down some daily reflections, or meditating.
You’ll sleep better at night and feel better during the day. Pretty simple, right? The caveman would agree, but then again he had it right all along.