What are Circadian Rhythms?
Circadian rhythms are light-dark cycles, as old as the first life on Earth.1 All life, so it seems, had to be intimately connected to cycles of the sun to continue to evolve.
One of the most important tenets of Ayurveda is living in sync with natural rhythms. Daily eating cycles, sleeping cycles, and seasonal harvest cycles are all critical to optimal health, according to Ayurveda. This understanding is only beginning to be grasped by modern science.
Circadian Rhythms + the Microbiome
Gut microbes play an important role in nearly every aspect of health: they are responsible for mood, behavior, cognitive function, immunity, blood sugar, digestion, detox, and much more.3 Interestingly, gut bacteria are significantly altered when we go out of sync with circadian rhythms.2
In a recent study, gut bacteria were measured in two groups of mice during normal exposure to light-dark cycles for two days.2 One group was healthy and the other had a mutation that disabled their internal circadian rhythms.
As mice are nocturnal, gut bacteria of healthy mice at night are busy eating, digesting, and growing. During the day, gut microbes perform “housekeeping” functions like repair and detox, which is what happens in sleeping humans at night. (Human gut microbes function similarly to mice, but in reverse, as we have diurnal rhythms and are awake during the day.)
The group with the disabled inner clock, which mimicks jet lag, showed disturbed function of gut bacteria, which did not act in sync with normal rhythms. Most notable was that normal feeding signals were masked, and mice ate incessantly during the two-day trial.
In the same study, when healthy mice were fed during the day rather than at night (opposite their natural schedule), bacteria were also significantly altered—similar to the mutated mice.
In fact, simply changing the feeding schedule for healthy mice altered their microbiome so that it became very similar to that of mice and humans with blood sugar and weight gain issues.
The same study compared microbiomes of a small group of humans. One group flew cross-continentally and the other stayed in the same time zone. The group that flew had microbiome changes similar to mice fed during the day. The jet-lagged humans also had microbiological changes that put them at higher risk for weight gain and blood sugar issues.
We RecommendSleep Your Way to Brain Health
Respect the Body Clocks
It is now widely accepted that we have many internal clocks. There are clocks for every organ, and these organs have been following circadian rhythms, switching on and off for millions of years of evolution.9
If we chronically eat late at night and we have a two-million-year-old clock that says we should eat in the day, science points to a disturbance in microbes driving healthy mind and body function. By ignoring internal clocks, the body, its microbes, and even its genes lose ability to sync up with circadian rhythms that have been with us since the beginning of life on the planet.4,8,9
Loss of circadian gene expression as a result of disrupted ability for genes to listen to or connect with rhythms of nature has been linked to a number of progressive and life-threatening health ailments.4,8
Getting organs and genes synchronized with circadian rhythms is a critical component of health and longevity.
Learning how to live in sync with daily, monthly, and seasonal cycles is something I discuss in detail in my books and more comprehensively in my online 28-Day Ayurveda Challenge, where a different Ayurvedic lifestyle technique is delivered to your inbox every day.
Herbs for Circadian Health
Certain Ayurvedic herbs have been shown to help reconnect our internal clocks with natural circadian rhythms. In one study, Bacopa monnieri was found to support healthy connection to circadian rhythms while under significant oxidative stress.5
If you are under regular stress, frequently crossing time zones, or living in contrast to the body’s internal clocks and a lifestyle change is not possible at this time, consider some protective adaptogenic herbal support to help you stay connected with circadian rhythms to support health, longevity, and wellbeing.
In what ways do you sync up with the rhythms of nature in your daily routine?