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Body Clocks: The Mind Body­Clock Connection Science has determined that variations in physical energy and

Body Clocks: The Mind Body­Clock Connection

Science has determined that variations in physical energy and mental alertness in human beings is tied to a clock­ like mechanism in the hypothalamus region of the brain. Known as the circadian rhythm, the human body reacts

to light entering the retina to regulate cycles of sleep and wakefulness. The human brain reacts to the lengths of

day and night by adjusting the secretion of the hormone melatonin, which increases at night and decreases during

the day.

which increases at night and decreases during the day. A person’s state of mind is directly

A person’s state of mind is directly affected by these hormonal variations. Scientific studies have indicated that a

person tends to feel more mentally alert at 9:00 a.m. and at 9:00 p.m. each day, while physical strength seems to peak at 11:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. This helps to explain why a person feels more energetic at certain times during the day and less so at other times.

A humans body clock, or circadian rhythm, cycles on a 24­hour period. When this pattern is disrupted, a person

can suffer various ill effects. One of the most commonly experienced disruptions is a phenomenon called jet lag.

Travelers who go through a number of time zones in a short period of time prevent the body from maintaining its natural circadian rhythm. As a result, altered sleep patterns can persist for a number of days, or longer, causing fatigue and disorientation

This disruption can be critical for some professions, such as commercial airline pilots. The United States National Transportation Safety Board has determined that fatigue caused by altered circadian rhythm cycles has led to a number of airline accidents.

The irregular functioning of circadian rhythms can result in more serious and long­lasting mental disorders. Both sleep disorders and bipolar disorder (manic­depression) have been tied to the dysfunction of the circadian rhythm. During periods of mania, a person suffering from bipolar disorder can go for days, weeks or months with little or no sleep.

The lower production of the hormone melatonin, normally secreted during regular sleep, can affect organs other than the brain and can lead to cardiovascular disease. In addition, lower melatonin production is thought to raise the probability of developing cancer.

Although the hypothalamus section of the brain houses the body’s primary clock, a number of

Although the hypothalamus section of the brain houses the body’s primary clock, a number of other organs appear to have a rhythm all of their own. These include the liver, esophagus, pancreas, lungs skin, spleen and the thymus.

Not all of these organs’ rhythms are affected by light, however. The liver appears to regulate itself based on food intake, while other parts of the body apparently are not influenced by any outside stimulus.

Recognizing the importance of circadian rhythms, some lifestyle habits can enhance its regularity and facilitate the healthy secretion of melatonin.

Maintain consistent times for going to sleep and waking up. This helps keep the circadian rhythm regular on a day­to­day basis.

Expose oneself to sunlight in the morning. This will affectively lower melatonin levels and increase energy more quickly.

Schedule tough intellectual tasks for the morning hours around 9:00 a.m.when the mind is most alert and near the time when the body is at its physical peak.