October 28, 2022 | CULTURE | By Phoebe Dodge | Illustration by Elizabeth White
In a capitalist society that measures value as changing and exploiting the Earth for our own human uses, it is not hard to believe that we are far from in touch with our own nature and our own connection with the Earth.
Each one of us has an internal 24-hour clock, our circadian rhythm, that aligns with the sun each day — although our work, school, and life schedules are rarely aligned with it. Yet, since 2000, there have been a number of studies by researchers such as John Hogenesch at the University of Pennsylvania, documenting the existence of a multitude of internal clocks, with one for each organ or organ system in the body.
While these clocks seem insignificant, mostly because of their roots in nature (the enemy of progress) and therefore the lack of ‘scientific evidence,’ their effects can clearly be seen when you start to look. Jet lag is one symptom of your body clocks getting confused and needing to reset, resulting in feelings of insomnia, exhaustion, nausea, or problems in digestion. That’s why it takes so much longer over longer distances: it takes longer for the clocks to reset. Even a small venture from the East Coast to Mountain Time can significantly upset your circadian rhythms.
It’s also been shown that listening to these clocks does have relatively substantial effects on your body. Courtney Peterson of the University of Alabama at Birmingham discovered that eating at night, when the body is planning for sleep, can overtime lead to high blood pressure and diabetes. She recommends that eating a bigger breakfast and smaller meals throughout the day, while only eating during a 6 to 8-hour period, can help to reverse these effects.
There are many current studies, such as one by Hogenesch, seeking to alter our body clocks to make medicines more effective (since metabolism has its own clock) and to live longer. But is even partially severing our connection with the Earth really worth it?
In my opinion, it’s not necessary — and let’s remember that getting to choose the ways you live is a privilege —so I don’t think so. How could we live healthily and to our greatest extent if we ignore or try to alter our connection with that which birthed us, with nature?
With all of this in mind, here’s an outline of what is best for your internal clocks at different times of the day.
Our bodies respond best to consistency, so doing the same things such as waking up, eating, and sleeping at the same time are of the utmost importance. Exposure to bright light, blue light like the light of the sun, early in the morning can help keep your clock on track as well as wake you up quickly.
The mid-to-late mornings are the best time to do taxing mental work as our brains are the sharpest, hitting a peak at around 12 or 1 p.m. Next, energy falls into a valley from around 2-5 p.m., hitting another peak around 6 p.m. It has been found that 3-6 p.m. is the best time to exercise, when you get the highest and best results. Afterward, energy falls once more in preparation for sleep.
Being aware of blue light exposure from screens and remembering to eat at least three hours before bed, both modern practices many college students especially enjoy, help to keep your circadian rhythm in order as well.
Practicing living in accordance with your nature in this way is not going to solve all your problems and is not necessarily always possible but even small changes, such as attempting to limit eating at night, are proven to be beneficial. And, in the end, we live in the US and science and progress are the national religion.