How’s Your Circadian Rhythm Treating You?

Monday, September 15, 2014 at 6:37AM
Dr. Weil in Healthy Aging, inflammation, sleep, sleeping

If your sleep schedule and mealtimes are irregular, you can upset the balance of your circadian rhythm, which is responsible for the 24-hour cycle of our physiology. Add poor diet to that and you may risk triggering harmful inflammation in your body, a recent study suggests.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center looked at the effect of circadian rhythm disruptions in male mice fed two different diets. To alter circadian patterns, investigators reversed the cycles of exposure to light and dark in the test mice. Then they fed some of the mice regular mouse chow, and put the others on a high-fat, high-sugar diet. The combination of the circadian rhythm disruption and the high-fat, high-sugar diet led to higher concentrations of bacteria known to promote inflammation in the digestive systems of that group of mice. No such changes occurred in the mice that stayed on the usual mouse diet despite the same alteration of their circadian rhythm. The researchers concluded that to trigger inflammation a “second hit” (such as poor diet) must be present along with circadian rhythm disruption. They suggest that humans whose circadian rhythms are out of sync with daylight because of shift work or “social jet lag” (a normal schedule during the week but late nights and sleeping late on weekends) might mitigate risks of inflammatory damage by eating and sleeping on a regular schedule, and by taking prebiotics or probiotics to “normalize the effects of circadian rhythm disruption on the intestinal microbiota to reduce the presence of inflammation.”

My take? Almost without exception, wherever I am and whatever I am doing, I go to bed early enough to get eight hours of sleep and wake up at dawn. I could still get my eight hours by retiring later and rising later, but the pattern I follow does more than just give me sufficient sleep - it syncs my own circadian rhythms with those of the sun. I have found that this routine is best for my overall energy and well-being. My colleague, sleep expert Rubin Naiman, Ph.D., tells me that most people are underexposed to darkness by night and get insufficient light by day, particularly in the morning. He adds that most of us spend the bulk of our waking hours indoors in what is relatively dampened light, while healthy levels of light naturally energize us, drawing us outward into the world. Healthy patterns of light exposure also help us maintain normal circadian cycles, Dr. Naiman reports.

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Robin N. Voigt et al, “Circadian Disorganization Alters Intestinal Microbiota,” PLOS One DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097500

Article originally appeared on Natural Health Information (

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