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  • Alice Bull

How to boost your energy by managing your circadian clocks

During this festive season, our body's own natural rhythm, driven by the circadian clocks in our cells and organs, can be thrown out of kilter by late nights, abnormal meal times and lack of sleep.

When running smoothly, our circadian clocks synchronise to ensure that we get a good night's sleep, our digestion is efficient and we wake up energised.

However, if we are sleeping in or getting an attack of the munchies at midnight, the rhythm of these clocks is thrown out of step and our body can be left with what feels like a hangover or jet lag the next day!

Here are 3 ways to help your body set an effective rhythm:

1. Start your day with some light

Our early ancestors would have gone to bed at dusk and woken with the rising of the sun.

Our bodies are naturally designed to be awake during the hours of light and it is important to find sunlight, or bright artificial light, first thing in the morning.

Light reduces sleepiness and can help alleviate major symptoms of depression (JAMA Psychiatry 2015 study).

If you can, go outside and get direct sunlight after waking. If this isn't possible, sit by a window or find a bright lamp to simulate daylight. It is thought 1000 lux of light is needed for 30-60 minutes after waking to reduce the feeling of drowsiness and improve your mood.

There are plenty of free light meter apps available where you can check how much light you are getting.

2. Don't eat for an hour after waking

When we are asleep, our body produces melatonin, which inhibits the secretion of insulin needed to process food. When we wake, melatonin levels are still high and it takes an hour or so for the production of the hormone to go down.

Coupled with this is that the secretion of cortisol, our stress hormone, is at its peak 45 minutes after we wake. Therefore, within the first hour of waking, our bodies are not capable to digest food efficiently.

Waiting for at least an hour after waking enables the body to be able to produce insulin to digest food effectively.

Our bodies may struggle to process even the smallest teaspoon of sugar or dash of milk so it is advised to stick to black tea and coffee or herbal teas when you wake up.

3. Avoid the midnight munchies!

Every cell in every organ of your body has a tiny circadian clock that sets the rhythm of all your bodily processes including sleep, digestion and the absorption of food.

If you eat and sleep at the same time each day, your body clocks will be settled in a rhythm that enables your digestion to work smoothly and your sleep to be effective.

However, if you have an attack of the midnight munchies, your body is not primed to digest food and you will have to reset the clocks within your gut and liver in order to secrete the digestive juices and absorb the nutrients. This confuses the rhythm of your circadian clocks and the body will reset to eat late the following night.

The result of this is that you may wake the next day having slept badly and have a food hangover! Your body may feel lethargic and your circadian clocks will be out of kilter.

Try sticking to a regular eating and sleeping time in order to keep your rhythm as smooth as possible.

When cared for efficiently, the human body runs like a well oiled machine and these three tips can help you ensure that you give your body the best chance of feeling as energised as possible.

These tips are based on research carried out by Professor Satchin Panda

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