The body moves to the beat of a circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour clock of physiological processes influenced by nature, like sunlight, darkness, and air temperature. Nature’s cues are reinforced by our habits – sleep patterns, timing of meals, physical activity. Keeping these habits in tempo with nature cultivates wellness.
Sleeping to waking, research shows that the body clock plays a significant role in our digestion and metabolism. Everything from cellular activity to neurotransmitter release is influenced by this clock. And not only does the clock influence us, but this clock can sense changes in our physiology. That means that by being off-sync, like working the night shift, skipping meals, or racking up frequent flier miles, we can alter the tempo of our natural cycle. This often leads to physical stress and fatigue, and in the long-run can set us up for weight gain, inability to lose weight, and heart disease.
Learning to better time our habits with nature and the body clock is the number one diet I can recommend. In general, any practice that causes us to be more mindful of our bodies is a beautiful thing to throw yourself into with good intentions and a spirit of enduring commitment. In practice, this could mean that if you really like chocolate or bacon, eating it midday may be a better choice for you than having these calorie-dense, digestively-demanding treats at night.
Sounds pretty reasonable, right?
The Workings of the Body Clock
The daily cycle of sunrise/sunset triggers a release of hormones in the human body that deal with energy, mood, appetite, and sleep. Just like the sun rising and setting, your metabolism also rises and sets. At the peak of this hormonal arc, at midday, our energy systems are at full intensity. At the end of the day, our hormones should settle us down into a stage of relaxation to be followed by rest.
Take a moment to ask yourself, Do my habits coincide with nature and my body clock?
It has been suggested that during the day, we need more energy, so intake of carbs (sugars, starches, what have you) is necessary for normal function. In the evening, we should focus on eating only protein and vegetables, as these provide nutrients that will allow the body to restore itself while the mind rests.
Body clocks are not just recent science or New Age-ism. Here are two examples:
Finding a New Rhythm
Give yourself the space to reset your habits to a natural clock. Here is how:
Early morning: Wake, stretch gently, and re-hydrate. Eat breakfast to give fuel to your internal fire, which has been glowing gently through the night. Get your metabolism burning with a balance of fiber, protein, and a small amount of simple carbs.
Late morning to Mid-afternoon: Enjoy a snack of fruit, with its perfect blend of simple sugars and complex carbs. For lunch, have a large, nourishing meal to keep your fire burning bright. Treat yo’ self, within reason.
Afternoon to Early evening: Exercise to use up any extra fuel from the day. Rely on water to maintain your energy.
Evening to Early night: Have a satisfying dinner with lean proteins and plenty of vegetables. Avoid piling on the carbohydrates, to prevent excess calories becoming stored as fat and promote blood sugar balance. Aim to be to bed at a reasonable time most days of the week to allow your sleep hormones to function properly.
Late night: Indulge in luxurious sleep, smiling while you dream with the content awareness that your body is rejuvenating itself.
Before dawn: Between sleep and awake is a beautiful lucid thought space. Being on time with your circadian rhythm on a regular basis should encourage dreaming and creativity. If you wake early, don’t go for your phone. Instead, keep a journal at bedside to capture any thoughts, practice a meditation, or visualize the best for the day ahead.