By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
All in due time. It’s a common enough phrase that you’ve most certainly have heard or even said before. In the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, it means “eventually, at the appropriate time.” But in health, is there such thing as the right time? There is, and it happens to all organisms every day, we are just not aware of it.
Chronobiology studies the natural timing of organisms in relation to day and night. In short, it is the science of time. Chronobiology dates back to more than a century ago, where leaf movement was first observed by astronomer Jean Jacques d’Ortous de Mairan. Since then, more studies have been conducted on these natural cycles, particularly in the 20th century. Through these studies, it was determined that there are three basic cycles in Chronobiology.
Infradian rhythms, which last longer than a day, are cycles that may happen every few days, every month, every quarter, or every year. A woman’s reproductive cycle and tidal rhythms are examples.
Second are ultradian rhythms, which have cycles shorter than a day. Various biological processes such as breathing, blood circulation, and even our feelings are examples of ultradian rhythms, with some of these cycles lasting only for a few seconds.
The third cycle is the circadian rhythm, or cycles that last for a day, such as the sleep/wake cycle. The sleep/wake cycle is the pattern of our bodies for times when we are at rest and for when we are awake in a 24-hour period. This pattern is determined by our brain, influenced by the day and night cycle of the environment. If there is no circadian rhythm, the rest of our biological functions will go awry.
These three cycles are all present in our body and influence our health, but the circadian rhythm affects humans almost immediately, which is why many focus on it than the other types.
Did you know that as one ages, their body’s circadian rhythm changes, too? The hormone melatonin is responsible for signaling the body to wake up (where melatonin levels go low) in the morning and rest at night (where melatonin levels spike). As we grow older, melatonin levels naturally decline, making it harder for the bodies of older individuals to follow their own circadian rhythm. And if the circadian rhythm is interrupted and the biological rhythm is not corrected, it may lead to disease later on.
The circadian rhythm is not only disrupted by age. Certain factors such as stress, work schedule (night shift), common jet lag, or mental illnesses, like depression, may even contribute to the misalignment in our bodily functions, and this is where chronobiology may be beneficial. According to chronopathology, a branch of chronobiology, abnormal growths in the body also follow a rhythm. And through another branch of study called chronopharmacology, or the study of the administration of medication at specific times where effectivity can be maximized, these growths can possibly be stopped. At the same time, chronopharmacology also deals with the study of determining which vitamins and minerals are best absorbed by the body at specific times, depending on one’s body clock.
This body clock, or the study of the timing of the body’s internal processes, is called chronophysiology, and it includes the study of chronotypes or determining those who work best in the morning (early birds) or those who function better at night (night owls). Chronophysiology helps in optimizing one’s health by learning about how one’s body functions in relation to an individual’s internal timing or body clock. These branches of chronobiology are interconnected and provide better understanding of our human body and its natural cycles in relation to the environment.
Understanding our body’s physical time is important to meet our maximum health potential. In the Philippines, there is a team called PhilSHIFT, a group comprised of researchers from the University of the Philippines-Manila who have partnered with circadian and chronotype researchers from the Ludwig Maximillians University Munich Institute of Medical Psychology, to study the chronotypes of Filipino shift workers. The group seeks to add to current research on the understanding of chronotypes, looking at other factors or conditions aside from genetics, age, and lifestyle that may contribute to determining an individual’s chronotype.
This is a good step in learning about body clocks and how the body can perform at its best. But individually, you can start tuning in to your body, beginning with your sleeping and waking patterns. You may also observe when you feel most energetic, when you feel sleepy, how often you experience jet lag, what time you wake up during the weekend, and so on. You may record these times in a journal and show it to your physician or a chronotype expert to help you determine when you can be most productive. Indeed, timing is everything when it comes to health.