Biological clocks and how they affect human health

The body’s master pacemaker or biological clock controls how our daily bodily functions.

Remember when you struggled with jet lag or lack of sleep? Here’s why.

What are biological clocks or circadian rhythms?

Biological clocks are natural timing devices that regulate circadian rhythms, comprising molecules or proteins interacting with cells throughout the body [1]. Almost every tissue and organ contain biological clocks.

Studies have recognised matching genes in people and organisms that make the clocks’ molecular components. About 20,000 neurons in the hypothalamus in the brain make up this clock, responsible for coordinating your body’s unconscious functions such as maintaining blood pressure or keeping us breathing.

As mentioned, humans aren’t the only beings with an internal clock system. All vertebrates have one, as do plants, fungi and bacteria.

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How does this affect your health?

Circadian rhythms can influence vital operations in our bodies:

  • Body temperature
  • Eating habits and digestion
  • Hormone release

Nevertheless, most people notice the effect of circadian rhythms on their sleep patterns [2]. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is a bilateral structure founnd in the anterior part of the hypothalamus. It receives input from the eyes and handles the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. 

The SCN acquires data about incoming light from the optic nerves, which dispatches information from the eyes to the brain. This is how the body tells us that it’s time to sleep at night when there is less light.

Nevertheless, most people notice the effect of circadian rhythms on their sleep patterns

Sleep and health

Research has revealed the restorative power of a good night’s sleep for health and longevity, so we aim for eight hours. As the circadian rhythm controls sleeping, overlooking the natural indicators of exhaustion when initiated by our circadian rhythm can harm health. 

For instance, less than seven hours of sleep can hurry epigenetic aging and increase the chance of numerous chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, mood disorders and possibly Alzheimer’s. Thankfully, we can manage our bedtime habits and getting a good night’s sleep can help fight against disease.

Research has revealed the restorative power of a good night's sleep for health and longevity, so we aim for eight hours.

Research and data on circadian rhythms

Scientists understand circadian rhythms by looking at humans and using organisms with comparable biological clock genes, such as fruit flies and mice. Researchers doing these experiments regulate the subject’s environment by varying light and dark periods. 

Afterwards, they examine changes in gene activity or additional molecular signals. Scientists also observe organisms with irregular circadian rhythms to determine which genetic components of biological clocks have damage.

Learning what makes biological clocks tick may lead to treatments for:

  • jet lag
  • obesity
  • sleep disorders,
  • mental health issues, among others

It can also improve habits for people to adapt to evening shift work. Learning more about the genes accountable for circadian rhythms will also enable us to understand the human body.

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Several elements like heredity, lifestyle and seasonal factors can impact circadian rhythms. Lifestyle and heredity directly affect circadian rhythm and health, while other aspects influence them mentally [3].

It is worth noting that the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Jeffrey Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael Young. They are American scientists lauded for their findings about the molecular mechanisms regulating the circadian rhythm [4].

These discoveries supplied the necessary reasons for how each living organism adapts its biological rhythm to synchronise with the earth’s rotation. This was achieved by separating the gene responsible for controlling the biological rhythm, ultimately demonstrating how this gene is liable for encoding a protein located in the cells overnight and degraded during the day.

Further studies continue to be conducted, and although findings yield that environmental factors are universal circumstances irrelevant to human control, they affect the human body and circadian rhythm. 

Regarding the factors that are manageable to prevent the disturbance of circadian rhythm that cause physical disorders, healthy practices can help you get closer to the path to longevity.

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The information included in this article is for informational purposes only. The purpose of this webpage is to promote broad consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.