Imagine the chaos in your life without a predictable sleep-wake, day-night, or activity-slump cycle. Biorhythms are nature’s way of providing a method to the madness of our many metabolic processes, keeping them in sync with day and night.
There are several rhythms in the human body: the ongoing lub-dubbing of the heart; the approximately 28-day female menstrual cycle; the 24-hour cycle of the alarm hormone cortisol, which peaks at sunrise to wake you by 6am and wanes as the sun sets to calm you for bedtime; and testosterone, which peaks at night during dream sleep. Even medication and drugs respond best when taken according to your body’s biorhythms. For instance, night-time medication is prescribed for ulcers and asthma, because biorhythmically ulcer pain is at its worst in the early morning and asthma worsens at night.
The natural 24-hour, day/night body cycles are called Circadian rhythms. The brain controls Circadian biorhythms via a cluster of nerve cells at its base, near the hypothalamus. Circadian rhythms guide our health systems, energy levels and mood, and determine the efficiency of daily life functions. Over every 24 hours, your body temperature varies by 0.5 degrees Celsius and blood pressure by 20%; white blood cells increase by as much as 50% during the day to help fight infections; mental alertness peaks in the early evening, shortly after a 1pm mid-afternoon slump; digestive enzymes decrease in efficiency by night so that your body can repair and restore itself as you sleep.
These clockwork biorhythms are an invaluable tool for managing lifestyle and health. Jet-setting or party-till-you-drop lifestyles disrupt Circadian rhythms and keep several important health-giving processes incomplete and wanting. Disturbed biorhythms cannot repair and restore well; they impair alertness and make you irritable, listless and lethargic. For instance, consistently sleeping more (beyond your body clock’s 6am wake-up hour) during the day and less by night makes the body react by increasing appetite, and leads to bingeing.
Plate reset: Changing your mealtimes can help you beat jet lag.
Regulate your rhythms
• On all weekdays, be early to bed and early to rise.
• Avoid skipping meals. Have a wholesome and healthy breakfast that includes high-fibre cereals and eggs or low-fat paneer to set up a high-activity rhythm for the day.
• Limit desserts, fries, cola and coffee as they upset sleep cycles.
• Eat at the same time most days of the week to maintain hormonal biorhythms.
• Build a daily exercise routine. Try to exercise atthe same time every day. Exercise improves the efficiency of several hormones, such as cortisol and testosterone, and this is especially important if you are stressed or have an erratic lifestyle.
• Take note of your activity/slump cycle and plan for challenging tasks when you are at peak efficiency. This way you will stress less over work.
• If you must party hard, do so just once a week and exercise the next day.
• Consume sleep-inducing foods at dinner. These could be chicken, fish, low-fat paneer, warm milk, almonds or bananas.
• Avoid too many cups of tea or coffee and energy drinks. These give you a false sense of energy.
• If you travel extensively, minimize jet-lag by helping to reset your biological clock to your destination two or three days prior to travel. Go to bed earlier by a couple of hours if travelling from West to East. Eat lunch and dinner earlier than usual too. Do the opposite if travelling from East to West.
Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.
Write to Madhuri at email@example.com