Friday, 31 July 2020

Getting in the Rhythm

Dusk; time to slow down
Back in June I heard Sam Watts talk about circadian rhythms as part of the Trew Health talks (i). The talk had a big impact on me. I have been aware of the importance of sleep and eating at certain times
 but many times life seems to get in the way so I often eat late, snack lots or go to bed too late. I sort of instinctively knew this wasn’t quite right. What Sam shared was some of the science about why rhythm is important.

Circadian rhythms are present in most if not all animals, plants, and even some species of fungi, and have evolved to help adapt their behaviors to the 24-hr change in the external environment due to the Earth's rotation. It was only recently that the Nobel Prize was award to scientists who started to understand how ‘clock genes’ work. Michael Rosbash in the Nobel Lecture (Dec 2017) (ii) writes of our biological clocks that: "Clocks function to allow organisms to anticipate daily changes in their environment. When something happens every day at the same time, organisms “learn” that the event will occur. This anticipation, preparing for what is going to happen, is a superior strategy to merely reacting to that change. Animals use their clocks to maximize or minimize their encounters with what I like to call the big 3: finding food, finding mates, and avoiding predators”.

So clocks serve our internal processes by providing order. ‘Jet lag’ or shift work are good examples of when there is a challenge between our external environment and our internal biological clock. However it can also happen when our lifestyle is misaligned to our inner clock.

It turns out that a large proportion of our genes are regulated by the biological clock and our circadian rhythm effectively adapting our physiology to the different phases of the day. We now understand much more how our biological clock helps to regulate sleep, meal times, hormone releases, blood pressure, and even body temperature. See image below taken from the press release about the Nobel Prize (iii). 


Sam Watts practices Ayurveda medicine and Ayurveda has been aware of rhythms for forever….well it’s been around 5,000 plus years. Dinacharya is a Sanskrit word made up of ‘dina,’ meaning day, and ‘acharya,’ meaning activity. Dinacharya is a daily routine that is about connecting us to our internal body clocks. Key is getting up at the right time each morning so that our bodies get that flood of ‘get up and go hormones’ to take us through the day at our most vital and best. It is the cortisol that is released between 5 and 7am in the morning that is critical; if we don’t get up with that ‘rush’ then we are trying to get up as that hormone drops off. 

What is also fascinating is that “when” we eat is turning out to be just as important as “what” we eat. Our body has times of day when it is best to digest to get the most in terms of nutrition from the food. Wow just read those two sentences again; how many of us are trying to eat well but then not mnaking the most of the nutrition by eating at the 'wrong' times?

Ayurveda has lots more to say about the bodies rhythms but what I liked about Sam’s talk was that he simplified it for those of us just getting started - I guess if you find this useful then going into more detail would no doubt be fun and bring even more benefits. Here our his recommendations:

Kick start your digestion with a warm drink, first thing.
Steer clear of devices, screens and phones until after breakfast.
Aim to wake in the morning and be out of bed between 6am - 7am.

To optimise digestion aim to eat at the following times; 
Breakfast 7am - 8am 
Lunch - 12 - 1:30pm
Dinner 5:30 - 7pm

Get a proper alarm clock, and keep your bedroom a phone free zone.
Aim to get to sleep between 10-10:30

Time to get up
Sam suggests that maybe 10% of people might not benefit from following this rhythm but that most people adopting it see big improvements in their wellbeing. One blog I read that was looking at fatigue commented: "until your body is following that natural circadian rhythm that was built into its design, you’ll never get your fatigue under control. That’s because the very presence of any level of dysregulation will always indicate some sort of problem with your adrenals. The good news, however, is that you can utilize your new understanding of the proper cortisol circadian rhythm as a tool to monitor your progress during your recovery efforts”(iv).

Plus of course we need to to be aware of day light saving - maybe that means getting up a wee bit later? Similarly intermittent fasting might mean looking carefully at the times to ensure 13 hours without eating - this is something I've not really done but a blog sometime in the future as it is something I want to look at a bit more closely.

No doubt as the clock genes are studied more we will have new revelations - and certainly Ayurveda has lots more to say - some of their other stuff that I found interesting was the best times for various activities:

6-10am - best time for exercise or physical activity
10-2pm - best time of the day to eat your largest meal
2-6pm - best time for mental and creative energy 
6-10pm - best time to begin settling down for sleep.
10-2am - best time to be sleeping 
2-6am - best time to sleep deeply and naturally wake up before sunrise

I’m not sure I can do big meal at lunch time (unless I have one also in the eveningšŸ˜ƒ) and also I am often more alert in the morning for mental activity, but some food for thought! Anyway this whole discussion has helped me get a better daily rhythm or routine that does seem to sit with the natural circadian cycles. I guess it is about being more balanced and it does seem less stressful and more vital - going with the flow rather than against it.

Lastly I just wanted to note thanks to Sam - his style of presentation and the way he makes important stuff accessible is really powerful. I have since signed up on his website to learn more; there are courses, meal plans, herbs, remedies and more. See: https://www.mind-body-medical.co.uk/

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