Mental Health

Are You Harming Your Body Clock?

Understanding circadian rhythms and their functioning is crucial for the body's internal clock, mood, cognitive skills, appetite, and cardiovascular health. Here are some tips to ensure everything stays in sync.

By URLife Team
04 Sep 2023

We all experience exhaustion in our daily lives  when it comes to work late or early in the morning. One of the most fundamental of these daily rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle, which, for most of us, aligns with the sun's cycle. It prompts drowsiness as evening progresses and alertness as the day breaks. These sleep-wake patterns, along with various other daily processes, constitute our circadian rhythms . This rhythm is operated by the body's internal biological clock, which resides deep within the brain.


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Circadian rhythms are the natural, internal biological clocks that regulate various physiological and behavioural processes over a 24-hour cycle. These rhythms are essential for coordinating our body's functions with the external environment, primarily the day-night cycle. 

Did you know that according to a 2023 study by the University of Waterloo, Canada, sustained disruptions to circadian rhythm have been linked to diabetes, memory loss, and many other disorders? The presence of our biological clock becomes notably evident when it's disrupted: Jet lag (a sleep disorder that can affect those who travel quickly across multiple time zones) and late night shifts have the potential to throw our usual rhythms into disarray, adversely affecting both our physical and mental well-being. Even the relatively minor shift of resetting the clock by just one hour during daylight savings time transitions can disturb our biological clocks.


Related story: How To Calm The Mind And Get A Good Night’s Sleep


Effect of Circadian Rhythm on Behaviour and Body Functions

Disrupting the natural rhythms of our body can lead to various issues. As per a 2023 study published by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, within the brain, there exists a specific and crucial region responsible for timekeeping known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), situated just above the point where optic nerve fibres cross. This strategic location allows the SCN to receive vital light-related cues from the environment, aiding in the regulation of our internal clock.

Melatonin is a key hormone that plays a significant role in regulating our body's daily cycle. At night, the amount of environmental light diminishes, and the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for inducing sleepiness, increases. In darkness, more melatonin is released, effectively signalling the brain to transition into sleep mode. Conversely, with the arrival of daylight, melatonin secretion is inhibited, allowing the brain's wakefulness circuits to resume their activity.


Related story: 6 Viral Life Hacks To help Sleep Better


Biological Clock And Master Clock

Biological clocks are innate timing mechanisms within organisms, responsible for governing the circadian rhythms that shape their daily cycles. These clocks consist of specialised molecules, primarily proteins, which interact with cells across the entire body. Virtually every tissue and organ in an organism contains its own biological clock.

Whereas, the master clock is a central control centre in the brain that orchestrates the synchronisation of all the biological clocks within an organism. In vertebrate animals, including humans, this master clock comprises approximately 20,000 nerve cells known as neurons, which together constitute a structure called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The SCN is situated within a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus and directly receives input from the eyes. The body's clock has a more extensive role than merely regulating sleep and wakefulness. It also orchestrates other bodily systems, including hunger, mental acuity, mood, stress responses, heart function, and even immunity, all of which follow a daily rhythm.


Related story: What Happens When You Are Sleep Deprived


Factors That Disrupt The Body Clock

The body's circadian rhythm, or internal biological clock, can be disrupted or harmed by various factors, leading to potential health issues. Here are some common factors that can negatively impact the body's clock:
Irregular Sleep Patterns: According to a 2023 study by Sleep Foundation, inconsistent sleep schedules, such as frequently changing work shifts or staying up late on weekends, can disrupt the circadian rhythm and make it challenging to maintain a stable sleep-wake cycle.

  • Jet Lag: Rapidly crossing multiple time zones, as experienced during long-haul flights, can throw off the body's internal clock, resulting in symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, and difficulty adjusting to the new time zone.
  • Shift Work: As per 2017 study by the Journal of Korean Medical Science, people who work irregular hours, particularly night shifts, often experience circadian rhythm disruptions. This can lead to sleep problems, fatigue, and an increased risk of various health conditions, including metabolic disorders and mood disturbances.
  • Blue Light Exposure: Exposure to artificial light, especially blue light emitted by electronic devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets, computers) before bedtime, can suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. This can interfere with the body's ability to initiate sleep at the right time.
  • Inadequate Natural Light: Insufficient exposure to natural daylight during the day can disrupt circadian rhythms. Natural light exposure, especially in the morning, helps synchronise the body's internal clock with the external day-night cycle.
  • Late-Night Eating: Consuming large meals or heavy snacks close to bedtime can interfere with sleep patterns and digestion, as the body is less efficient at processing food during the nighttime hours. Read: 6 Reasons to Try Circadian Rhythm Fasting
  • Caffeine and Stimulants: Consuming caffeine or other stimulants, especially later in the day, can disrupt sleep patterns and make it difficult to fall asleep at the appropriate time.
  • Alcohol and Substance Use: Excessive alcohol and substance use, including nicotine, can negatively impact sleep quality and the body's ability to maintain a consistent circadian rhythm.
  • Stress and Anxiety: A 2020 study in the Harvard Health Publishing shows that persistent stress and anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns and make it challenging to relax and fall asleep at the right time.
  • Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, such as sleep disorders (e.g., sleep apnea, insomnia), mood disorders (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder), and neurological disorders (e.g., Alzheimer's disease), can disrupt circadian rhythms and affect sleep-wake cycles.
  • Medications: Some medications, such as certain antidepressants, antipsychotics, and medications for high blood pressure, can interfere with the body's internal clock and lead to sleep disturbances.
  • Ageing: As individuals age, there can be natural changes in circadian rhythm regulation, leading to shifts in sleep patterns and increased susceptibility to sleep problems.


It's important to prioritise healthy sleep habits and maintain a consistent daily routine to support a well-functioning circadian rhythm. When circadian disruptions occur, techniques like gradual adjustments to sleep schedules, exposure to natural light, and lifestyle modifications can help reset the body's clock and improve sleep quality. If sleep problems persist, consulting a healthcare professional or sleep specialist may be necessary to address underlying issues. To know more about ways to support your circadian rhythm, read: 3 Habits of Getting Better Sleep

Related Story: Take A Break-Why Rest Is Different From Sleep


Need all your wellness solutions in one place? A whole new world awaits just a click away.
Regular health checks are essential for everyone, but they are particularly important for individuals who are at risk of or already have sleep disorder. Taking regular health checks can help detect sleep disorder at an early stage when it is easier to manage and treat. With the UR.Life HRA, we help you to invest in your well-being through seamless interventions and targeted medical treatments. Our holistic wellness approach caters to all aspects of your well-being. We ensure that you can bring your whole self to work.


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