Beyond REM – The Science of Chronobiology

Chronobiology is the study of time rhythms and how they affect our behavior and functioning. One hundred fifty messenger substances constantly circulate through your body and update your organs about the current environment – your body temperature, your blood pressure, etc. There are three primary rhythms of chronobiology:

  1. Infradian Rhythms– these are rhythms that last more than 24 hours and are repeated only every few days, weeks, months, or even once per year. For example, infradian rhythms control bird migration and lunar rhythms and semi-lunar rhythms associated with tidal waves; the menstrual cycle is also controlled my infradian rhythms.
  2. Ultradian Rhythms– these are rhythms that are shorter than 24 hours; for example, adults have an exertion and rest cycle about every two hours. These rhythms regulate physical, emotional, and spiritual functions. The ingestion of food, circulation of blood, excretion of hormones, different stages of sleep, and the human performance curve are based on ultradian rhythms.
  3. Circadian Rhythms– these rhythms take approximately 24 hours, such as the human sleep/wake cycle, which can dramatically affect wellbeing. For example, we know that people who work the night shift are at a significantly higher risk for several diseases, including breast and prostate cancer. The circadian rhythm also regulates food intake and heat retention or loss.

Each physiological system, such as the gastrointestinal tract or the kidneys, has its own rhythm. Every disease also has its own time-based pattern – including common ailments like heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, and arthritis. Roughly 80 conditions are deemed sleep-related. Asthma, depression, and epileptic seizures are especially affected by the inner clock. The psychiatric effects of the circadian cycle are most easily seen when considering seasonal affective disorder, but experts point out that there is also a higher incidence of depressive episodes after a westward flight and manic episodes after flying east.

Chronophysiology investigates time-based manifestations of physiologic processes. It assesses cyclic nervous, endocrine, metabolic, and other interactions influenced by biologic temporal characteristics and their relations with the environment.

The chronohygiene branch of chronobiology strives to detect risk elevation by an alteration in rhythm before pathology becomes overt and symptomatic. For example, the monitoring of blood pressure and heart rate, combined with chronobiologic data analysis, detects unfavorable parameters before hypertension occurs.

The chronopharmacology branch of chronobiology looks at how the timing of a medication or supplement can decrease side effects, be more effective, or disrupt a physiological process. For example, researchers will soon be able to identify the hour in which tumor cells tend to divide. In the future, therapeutic cytotoxins might be introduced into the target organ at a time when their effect on tumor growth is higher, and when their effect is less harmful to the remaining cells.

The ChronodietTMspecifies that 40% of the diet come from carbohydrate, 30% of calories should come from protein, and 30% of calories should come from fat. Breakfast should be nearly 100% carbohydrate, lunch should be a mix of protein and carbohydrate, and dinner should be all protein.  Ideally, there are five hours of fasting between breakfast and lunch and lunch and dinner, with a twelve hour fast overnight. A sample menu might look like:

Breakfast (7 am) – Oatmeal and berries; a small banana

Lunch (12 pm) – A sandwich made of oven-roasted chicken, cheese, lettuce, and tomato on whole wheat bread; a bowl of vegetable soup, and a small container of yogurt

Dinner (5 pm) – Roasted salmon and Brussel sprouts with a small side salad (oil and vinegar dressing)

However, as pointed out by the European Food Information Council , “whenever we eat proteins, fats or carbohydrates our body responds by increasing the production of all substances needed to digest and utilize them. Any weight loss experienced with this diet is likely due to the reduction of calorie intake that tends to occur when individual meals are restricted to certain food items.”