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Another Revealing Health Tip... Good Health Begins With Your Circadian Rhythm.

Published on
December 22, 2023

Emily Navas

Rhythm & Light

The Key To Good Health!

If you’ve ever experienced jet lag, worked night shifts, or pulled an all-nighter, you may know how bad it makes you feel. In fact, the physiological and biological impact on your body is tremendous. Our bodies have a natural rhythm where there is awake time and there is rest time.  When the times are interrupted or are even inconsistent we miss out on high quality sleep that the body needs to repair, detoxify and regenerate.  This lack of high quality sleep sets us up for many detrimental long term effects on our health.  I’d like to focus on how to get quality sleep and why light is so vital for setting our circadian rhythm and why rhythm is so vital to our overall health and well-being.

Naturally we have rhythms in nature: we have the rising of the sun and the setting of the sun, the lunar cycles, the months and seasons of the year.  So it only makes sense that our body has its own rhythms and cycles and its own seasons. Understanding that we have these internal clocks and that we actually have genes that are called clock genes that need to synchronize just like an orchestra of music but of different chemical reactions that go on in your body.  You have chemicals being made and those that are breaking down or rather detoxified, metabolized, etc.. and we have an orchestra of all these rhythms going on in harmony.  The body’s conductor is synchronizing the whole body in terms of the liver and the heart and the muscles and digestion, etc..  

In Chinese medicine we have the Chinese clock of organ function which shows us the organs and organ systems along with their contributing pathways or meridians functioning optimally at different times of the day.  For example, your stomach functions optimally between 7-9am which is why it is important to eat like a king as the saying goes.  You know,  “for your breakfast, eat like a king, and for your lunch eat like a queen and for dinner eat like pauper.”  Your heart functions optimally at 11-1pm which is the best time to exercise and also on the opposite time 12 midnight, notably is when possibly more heart attacks occur.  Our bodies naturally have an established rhythm, which if we follow it, is key to living in health.  


It’s December and we find ourselves in countdown mode to the longest night of the year, winter solstice losing daylight hours every day. To get your body into rhythm, primarily, there’s this thing called light, and specifically sunlight.  Think about all those who suffer with SAD (seasonal affective disorder), if you live in a high enough altitude or latitude, where you don’t get enough light and all of sudden you start feeling lethargic, and tired and depressed it’s because your whole rhythm is affected by sunlight.  Your eyes are literally the metronome to the body and it keeps the body in sync.  I always tell my patients to get exposure to sunlight early on within 20-30 minutes of awakening.  And that exposure to light helps to get all of your body clocks in sync.  if you will, so that that orchestra can produce really good music.  Light is key!  Sunlight even in the middle of the day, a walk at lunch time has a profound affect on better sleep at night.  After experiencing jet lag or shift work even 20 minutes of light can regulate your sleep by 50% improvement.  Exposure to sunlight is also linked to improved sleep patterns in sensors.  Our natural sleep schedule is heavily influenced by sunlight, so lack of exposure to the sun can trigger insomnia, or irregular sleeping patterns.


The other important key to good health as noted in Chinese medicine as well and practiced over thousands of years is not only what you eat, but it’s when you eat.  Eating breakfast between 7-9 in Chinese medicine as I mentioned is key to allowing for the stomach to optimally function.   Eating late at night when the body should be sleeping isn’t optimal for digestive function and keeping your weight down. The timing  of your meals at approximately the same time everyday helps the body maintain a good rhythm. Both published in the journal “Proceedings of the Nutrition Society,” the studies found that people who eat at random times every day had higher blood pressure and BMIs than people who stuck to an eating schedule—and late-night noshing made things even worse. There are these people who are centenarians who have routines of doing the same thing every day.  There is something to be said for that… It is incredible how this chronobiology (the study of biological rhythms) is so important to our health. People who stay up at night doing shifts or pulling all-nighters are craving more food or sugary foods that pick up your energy


I’ve been talking about the effects on timing of eating, sleeping, all the things we're doing exercise —they're all important and and what's also really striking is the disturbances of light, meaning we are exposed to artificial light in times when we shouldn't be. Particularly not at night.  Our health has degraded since the invention of the light bulb that we stay up late at night. And now we're worse than the frickin light bulb. We've gotten to screens and TVs or devices with all this blue light that's causing us to shut down melatonin production which affects our sleep and our quality of our energy. In Chinese medicine this also relates to the Liver time in the Chinese clock.  The Liver functions optimally at 1am to 3am is the time of the Liver and it is important to give your liver as little to process as possible so it can focus on its several cleansing functions. What should you be doing at that time? Deep sleep and dreaming!  This allows the Liver to carry out its detoxification functions, it means eating your last meal of the day early and making sure it is light one.  Another interesting fact in Chinese medicine is the Liver is the home of blood and it is related to more fiery emotions. If you find yourself keep waking up during the time of Liver, you could have too much Yang energy, unaddressed anger, anxiety, or frustration, or problems with your detoxification pathways. Keeping your liver happy keeps your emotions in check.


Sleep deprivation is an epidemic in the United States as we keep ourselves awake with caffeine or amphetamines to do our work.  However, without getting restorative sleep we head in the direction of diabetes and heart disease.  There is a timing when your body does things. there are some people that are what I would call, you know, morning people and people who are more night owls. There's a natural tendency of that, especially teenagers tend to want to stay up later at night. But in general, you want to get into the rising and the setting of the sun. So I usually tell people, you know, when you look at the animal kingdom, do what the animals are doing. When the sun rises, they get up, they start tweeting the birds run around and they start finding their food. And when it's dark out,  they go to sleep, they don't play, they don't sit up watching television, they're not on their smartphones, and they're not rading the refrigerator. At the very least becoming aware of the fact that you’re being sleep deprived and out of sync, is often times the first step toward healing your rhythm.