Understanding Your Pineal Gland and Circadian Rhythm for Improved Sleep Health

Domonique D. Hargrove B.A., M.S., NCEP Certified Trainer, Founder& President of “Slight Edge Performance Program” LLC

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What Is The Circadian Rhythm?

A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It can refer to any biological process that displays an endogenous, entrainable oscillation of about 24 hours.

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythm is the 24-hour internal clock in our brain that regulates cycles of alertness and sleepiness by responding to light changes in our environment. Our physiology and behavior are shaped by the Earth’s rotation around its axis.

Circadian rhythms are linked to your body’s internal clock and your sleep/wake cycle. Circadian rhythms are important in determining your natural sleeping and feeding patterns. Brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration, and other important biological processes are determined by this cycle.

The circadian biological clock is controlled by a part of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), a group of cells in the hypothalamus that respond to light and dark signals. From the optic nerve of the eye, light travels to the SCN, signaling the internal clock that it is time to be awake.

What Is The Suprachiasmatic Nucleus?

The suprachiasmatic nucleus or nuclei (SCN) is a tiny region of the brain in the hypothalamus, situated directly above the optic chiasm. It is responsible for controlling circadian rhythms.

In the brain, a small group of hypothalamic nerve cells, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), functions as a master circadian pacemaker controlling the timing of the sleep-wake cycle and coordinating this with circadian rhythms in other brain areas and other tissues to enhance behavioral adaptation.

Hypothalamus acts as a master clock in the human body. The master circadian clock that regulates 24-hour cycles throughout our bodies is found in a region called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN) in the hypothalamus of the brain. The SCN regulates sleep, metabolism, and hormone production.

Circadian rhythms are biological patterns that closely follow a 24-hour cycle. The term circadian comes from the Latin for around (circa) and day (diem), and circadian rhythms govern a large number of biological processes including sleeping, eating, drinking, and hormone release.

In the 1960’s, researchers noticed that damage to the anterior hypothalamus of the rat caused a disruption in the animal’s circadian rhythms. Several years later, the specific nucleus in the hypothalamus whose integrity was necessary for maintaining circadian rhythms was identified as the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus houses a type of biological clock that is able to keep our circadian rhythms on close to a 24-hour cycle, even without the help of external cues like daylight. Thus, if you were to lock someone in a room with no external light and no other way of telling the time, their body would still maintain a circadian rhythm of around 24 hours.

The suprachiasmatic nucleus helps to maintain circadian rhythms by coordinating the timing of billions of other circadian clocks found in cells throughout the rest of the brain and body.

Not long after the discovery of the suprachiasmatic nucleus, it was also learned that similar types of molecular clocks exist in most other peripheral tissues and in many areas of the brain. These clocks, sometimes called slave oscillators (while the suprachiasmatic nucleus is considered the master oscillator) appear to depend on signals generated by the suprachiasmatic nucleus to synchronize their time-keeping with that of the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

These signals can be associated with rhythms that the suprachiasmatic nucleus helps to establish, like feeding patterns, rest and activity behaviors or by direct neuronal or hormonal output from the suprachiasmatic nucleus.

What Is Melatonin and Why Is It So Important?

Melatonin is a ubiquitous natural neurotransmitter-like compound produced primarily by the pineal gland. This agent is involved in numerous aspects of the biological and physiologic regulation of body functions. The role of endogenous melatonin in circadian rhythm disturbances and sleep disorders is well established.

In humans and most mammals, melatonin is secreted at night with a robust circadian rhythm and maximum plasma levels that occur around 3 to 4 AM. The rhythmic release of melatonin is regulated by the central circadian rhythm generator—the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the anterior hypothalamus.

It appears that the function of melatonin is to mediate dark signals and provide night information, a “hormone of darkness,” rather than be the hormone of sleep. It has also been thought to be an “endogenous synchronizer” that stabilizes and reinforces various circadian rhythms in the body.

If sleep occurs outside the biological night, its quality and duration are compromised. That is why endogenous melatonin is understood as a hormone which facilitates and reinforces sleep and other nighttime physiologic functions.

Melatonin is a hormone that the pineal gland in the brain produces. People can also take it as a natural or synthetic supplement to promote restful sleep. Melatonin fulfills many functions in the body, but it is mostly known for maintaining circadian rhythms.

The circadian rhythm of pineal melatonin is the best marker of internal time under low ambient light levels. The endogenous melatonin rhythm exhibits a close association with the endogenous circadian component of the sleep propensity rhythm. This has led to the idea that melatonin is an internal sleep “facilitator” in humans, and therefore useful in the treatment of insomnia and the readjustment of circadian rhythms.

What Is The Circadian Rhythm Diet?

The circadian rhythm diet, also known as the body clock diet, is basically a form of time-restricted eating plan where you eat in sync with this internal clock. “This means that you eat during the daylight hours, within a window of 12 hours or less and fast for the remaining 12 or more hours each day.

Biological activities like metabolism are closely linked to our circadian rhythm. Your metabolism changes throughout the day because of your circadian rhythm or natural body clock.

Your circadian rhythm is made up of several physical, mental, and behavioral changes that recur naturally on a 24-hour cycle. Every cell in your body follows this rhythm, as it dictates when they’re most metabolically active, when they produce hormones, and when they repair themselves.

Those recurring behaviors are intricately linked to your internal biological clock, which controls important functions throughout your body, from sleep patterns to hormone release to digestion.

Every tissue and organ in your body has its own biological clock that contributes to your body’s 24-hour cycle. That includes those involved with digestion and regulating your metabolism.

Every organ, hormone, and enzyme involved with digesting your food follows your circadian rhythm.

Your body works better if it knows when to expect to digest and process food. By optimizing your healthy eating patterns to stick to your circadian rhythm, you can enjoy myriad health and fitness benefits, including better neurological function.

One of the most effective ways to do this is through time-restricted eating. Limit meals to a window of eight to 10 hours during the day, when your body is most active. Allow your digestive system to rest for the remaining hours and while you sleep.

Our body will get used to the pattern, and with a consistently healthy diet, it will automatically optimize its own digestive rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm is about more than just sleep. In fact, your eating habits are just as important to keeping your body’s functions on track as your sleeping habits are. Respect the rhythm by creating and sticking to sleeping and eating patterns that are more closely aligned with it, and you might be surprised at how much more efficiently your body works.

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Be sure to “like” and “follow” our Team Page facebook.com/SlightEdgePerformanceProgram

References: http://www.mymetabolicmeals.com, http://www.forbes.com, http://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com, http://www.sciencedaily.com

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