Circadian Rhythms and Endocrine Disruptors
Ever wonder why some people just naturally seem to be early risers while others can barely crawl out of bed by mid-afternoon? The answer is in their biological clocks. Our biological clocks are what drive our circadian rhythms. We have sort of a “master clock”, located in the hypothalamus, which is made up of a group of nerve cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SNC). The SNC contains about 20,000 cells. This master clock coordinates all the body clocks, keeping them in synch with each other.
One of the clocks controlled is that of our circadian rhythms, a group of mental, behavioral, and physical changes following a 24 hour cycle. These changes respond mostly to the light and darkness in our environment. Such rhythms are found in most living things, including plants and animals, and even microbes. Though they are produced by natural factors within the body, they are also affected by our environment with light being the main force behind the turning on and off of genes that control our internal clocks.
Our circadian rhythms regulate our sleep-wake schedules, body temperature, hormone release, and other bodily functions. They are very important to determining our sleep patterns. The SCN controls the production of melatonin in the pineal gland. Melatonin is the hormone which makes us sleepy. The SCN is right above the optic nerve, which relays information from the eyes to the brain. When incoming light is low, as at night, the SNC signals the brain to make melatonin, so that sleep may be brought on.
Numerous studies have linked our circadian rhythms to various sleep disorders, such as insomnia and disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Depression and bipolar disorder have been linked to abnormal circadian rhythms. There are several ways our circadian rhythms can be disrupted, jet lag and shift work being among them. There are also drugs and toxins which can have severe disrupting effects on our rhythms.
Much has been reported and recorded on the ill health effects associated with pesticides, insecticides, and additives in our food. More and more research shows these chemicals being released into our environment, as well as our food, serve to cause disruption in the functioning of the human endocrine system. They are referred to as Endocrine Disruptors, or EDC's.
The endocrine system is made up of 10 different glands, each having its own function in regulating and maintaining body functions. When the functions of the endocrine glands, and the levels of hormones are changed, many different illnesses can result. The effects of EDC's in connection with immunity, metabolism, and body organs can be disastrous.
Several studies have linked EDC's to alteration of the circadian “clocks” in the liver, as well as other organs. Since EDC's have a direct impact on altering and disrupting the levels of hormones, and the glands associated, circadian rhythms have been found to be impacted as well. At this time, there are questions whether the disruption of circadian rhythms are the key to tripping the trigger, so to speak, when considering the almost doubled incidence of diabetes and obesity since 2000.
Sleep disorders are another factor to contend with when dealing with diabetes and/or obesity. The question is: Which came first? The illness brought on by exposure to EDC's, or disruption of circadian rhythms due to exposure to EDC's?
If you have begun to experience unexplained trouble sleeping, or your sleep patterns seem to be erratic with no known cause, you may be suffering the effects of EDC exposure. To lessen your exposure to Endocrine Disruptors, you should make sure you read the labels before consuming processed food. It's better to stick to whole foods you cook yourself, but even with these you may be dealing with farming chemicals which have been absorbed into the plants. Stop using artificial sweeteners and flavors. Trade in your carbonated sodas for water. If you are a juice drinker, make sure you are only purchasing those without sweeteners added.
To bring your circadian rhythms back to normal there are several things you can do, once you've removed EDC's from your diet. Your bed is for sleeping, not watching television, doing last minute computer work, or eating. Try to stay consistent with bedtime hours. Go to bed at the same time every night, setting your alarm for the same time every day. This means even on weekends.
Don't pull the window shades down, or close the mini-blinds. Our bodies produce melatonin when our eyes don't register high levels of light. The more melatonin in your system when the alarm goes off, the groggier you will feel upon waking. When evening comes on, start dimming the lights to get that melatonin pumping.
Forget the midnight snacks. In fact, cut out all eating and drinks at least two hours prior to your scheduled bedtime. Circadian rhythms have been linked to meal schedules. Since we eat most of our meals during the day, that late night snack may trick your brain into responding as though it's the middle of the day. Melatonin production will be halted, which will result in you being alert when you need to be getting sleepy. In addition, waking up to visit the bathroom is a sleep disruptor!
Getting enough exercise has been linked to a good night's rest. However, if you exercise too close to bedtime, it can have the opposite effect. Exercising causes endorphins to be released which may make you feel very alert and energized. The idea is to use your muscles enough during your waking hours so that you will be ready for a rest at bedtime. It's best to make sure your workout is finished at least an hour before hitting the sack.
It takes some time to get your rhythms back to normal. If you experience wakeful periods during the night, it's recommended that you get up for a few brief moments rather than laying there staring into the dark. All you will do is become frustrated at not being able to sleep, which will make you feel more wide awake. However, do NOT turn the lights on and start watching television. After a moment or two of quiet thought, try to go back to sleep. No matter how sleepy you may feel when the alarm goes off, get up anyway. You'll be twice as tired when bedtime finally comes again!
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