Circadian rhythms are cycles of physical, mental, and behavioral changes. They last approximately 24 hours, and they let us know when it’s time to snooze and when to wake up and smell the coffee— no alarm clock necessary. And Enrique isn’t the only one feeling that rhythm divine— circadian rhythms are a basic part of human life.
The Rhythm of the (Day and) Night — The Need-to-Know
Photo by Marissa Angell
Circadian rhythms influence when we’re hungry, happy, and sleepy (and maybe even Dopey, too.) The human body naturally produces chemicals that regulate daily behavior patterns. But environmental cues— especially light and darkness— are also important. Exposure to light tells the body to stay awake, while darkness says break out the blankets. People tend to be least alert between 2 and 6 am, while energy levels generally peak between 6 and 8 pm.
From mood swings to the munchies, circadian rhythms play a role in a range of biological activities. Retweet this: Based on a study of Twitter messages, one group of researchers believes happiness peaks in the morning and around midnight
And while every person has a circadian rhythm, ladies tend to operate on fast forward— studies suggest their biological cycle is about six minutes shorter than men’s. Age is another important factor. It’s not just the appeal of the early bird special— changes in body clocks turn many older people into early risers
Circadian Rhythm ’n Blues — Your Action Plan
Disruptions in circadian rhythms can cause a range of health issues. Jet lag often results when people travel through time zones, since it takes a while for their body clocks to adjust. So someone who’s traveled from Madrid to New York might be ready to hit the hay at 5 pm, since their body thinks it’s almost midnight. For some, minimal daylight during the winter can bring on Seasonal Affective Disorder, a type of depression. Even the artificial light from computer and phone screens can throw the body clock out of whack, causing problems with sleep.
But no screwdrivers are necessary to repair a body clock gone haywire. Some solutions are pretty simple. Travelers can try popping a few melatonin pills, which research suggests can help ease symptoms of jet lag