I love a study that debunks an old theory long believed true. Last week scientists at the University of Michigan came out with a bold statement: everything we know about the human biological clock is wrong.
According to these researchers,
who hail from mathematics, the cells responsible for maintaining the clock in
the part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei, or SCN, don’t fire all
day and night like previously thought. The cells that control the clock are silent during the day.
cells sustain an electrically excited state, they don’t actually fire until a
brief period around dusk, and then remain quiet throughout the night before releasing
another burst of activity around dawn.
Think of a clock that only chimes twice a day – because the time only needs to be announced at two particular times. The clock keeps ticking during the silent periods, to make sure the time is accurate when it is time for the chimes to sound.
This may not sound like big news
for you (or even mean all that much), but it means a lot to people in sleep
medicine and in general medicine for that matter. I’ve written often about biological
clocks in the past. It’s a fascinating area of research that has so many
applications to everyday life.
Consider how much your internal clock determines the quality of your life.
And if you don’t know what I mean by that, then here’s a quick summary. All of
the following relate to your internal cloc
- Your sleep/wake cycles.
- How refreshed you feel in the morning.
- How easy it is for you to fall asleep at night.
- Whether you can recover quickly from jet lag.
- The fate of a shift worker who has to be productive at odd hours.
- Whether you’re a lark or an owl.
- Your mood and energy level.
- The strength of your immune system.
- Your ability to ward
off diseases, including cancer and Alzheimer’s.
It may seem unfathomable that your body’s clock can influence diseases like cancer, but it’s true. Think of your clock as your body’s central pacemaker—a means by which the body can remain balanced and, in medical speak, in a state of homeostasis.
I expect future studies to validate some of this new information. It’s been suggested that there’s more than one clock in the body. Perhaps these math gurus should apply their mathematical model to these other clock ideas and see what emerges. Time will tell…
Michael J. Breus, PhD
The Sleep Doctor™