(ORDO NEWS) — Back in 2017, the Nobel Prize in Physiology was awarded to scientists who studied the so-called “circadian rhythms” – the human biological clock that controls the work of almost every system in our body. Today we will tell you about what these mysterious biorhythms are and how a person can normalize his sleep without resorting to pills.
Regardless of whether you are an owl or a lark that rises from day to day with sunrise, the body’s sleep habit at a certain time is regulated by the so-called circadian rhythms. This internal clock controls almost every aspect of our health, from appetite and sleepiness to cell division, hormone production, and cardiovascular health. Scientists are optimistic, because one day medicine has every chance to develop drugs or therapies that regulate the body’s circadian rhythms – and problems with lack of sleep will become a thing of the past.
How our internal clocks work
Almost every cell in the human body has a molecular clock. This is manifested in such a way that about every 24 hours, certain beat proteins interact with each other in a kind of slow dance. During the day, this process leads to the timely activation of certain genes that control various processes, including the release of certain hormones into the blood. Melatonin is a sleep-inducing hormone, and its concentration in the blood also depends on gene activity.
Why are heart attacks and strokes two to three times more common in the early morning? Because the internal clock is programmed to increase blood pressure at this time to help the body wake up. Why do children grow up in their sleep? Because growth hormone is produced in the human body only once a day, it is in the phase of night sleep (therefore, you should not abuse your afternoon nap at this age). As a result, the harmonious work of all body systems is somehow associated with this clock. That is why disturbances in the rhythm of sleep and wakefulness increase the risk of obesity, the development of chronic diseases and even cancer, not to mention a general deterioration in well-being.
The timing of your meals can also affect your health: when you eat is often much more important than what you eat. Several years ago, researchers analyzed this process using the example of feeding mice, which are usually nocturnal. They were put on a high-fat diet and the results were immediate: those who ate during active times of the day stayed in shape; but those who like to chew something day and night almost immediately began to suffer from excess weight and got sick.
Our biological rhythm is “encoded” individually, with most people falling into a 24-hour cycle. However, there are those whose internal routine is out of sync – for example, the “owl” rhythm that has become so popular. Scientists believe that in 1 in 75 people, the “owl” regimen is caused by a mutation in the CRY1 protein, which delays the state of sleepiness until early morning. This is not only complicated by the fact that “owls” have to get up early and do their daily activities, but also by the fact that due to the desynchronous cycle the cycle becomes lengthened and the body is constantly in a state of tense, unhealthy wakefulness. But this is a rare genetic mutation, and simple and effective therapy can help everyone else improve their condition.
The biological clock is, of course, synchronized with the brain. The light that our eyes catch helps maintain the cycle of day and night – which is why when you travel to a different time zone, your internal clock no longer matches the solar cycle, and it takes about a week to adapt. In everyday life, the worst enemy of the internal clock is bright artificial light at night, which literally disorients the body’s systems. Scientists have found that even regular e-book reading at night for several hours can cause poor sleep and make you feel worse the next day.
Fortunately, these effects can be minimized by using “light hygiene.” During the day, you should provide your eyes with a sufficient amount of bright light, but with the onset of dusk it is better to minimize its effects. This simple step will allow your circadian clock to synchronize with your natural daily cycle, which promotes healthy and sound sleep.
Future and forward-looking research
The longer scientists study circadian rhythms, the greater the chance that they will help develop effective techniques for bringing the state of sleep and wakefulness into harmony. Most of the research now focuses on the complex molecular mechanisms that regulate circadian rhythms: in particular, geneticists are analyzing the interaction of CRY1 with other “clock” proteins in the hope of understanding how mutations damage the biological clock. They’ve already figured out that the mutated protein stays in touch with its partners longer than it should, just like an insecure dancer in a more experienced group. A delay in the synchronization of this pair, like a chain reaction, causes a malfunction in the work of other systems, which are forced to adjust to the disturbed rhythm.
Given the complex and still not fully understood nature of the bioclock, it can be confidently asserted that many other genes affect circadian rhythms. This is good news, since in this case even people with a disrupted genome can be helped by pharmacology, maximizing the beneficial effect and minimizing the negative effects of drugs on the body as a whole. This is the trouble with modern drugs that raise blood pressure or lower cholesterol levels – for each beneficial effect, there are a dozen unpleasant side effects.
Perhaps, in the near future, even special gadgets will appear that will be able to monitor the state of a person’s rhythms in real time and warn about a downed mode in advance. This may sound like another overly optimistic forecast, but in reality, almost all the prerequisites for creating such devices have already been met. Now the scientific community is only looking for convenient biomarkers, the content of which in the blood will clearly reflect the state of circadian rhythms.
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