Power Your Brain and Life By Managing Your Body Clock
By Michael Cerreto, MS, CSC, LDR, Edu-K
Before humans created formal ways to keep time, we relied on our natural body clock located in the brain’s hypothalamus. Our internal clock is roughly a 24 hour cycle in humans, called the circadian rhythm, that guides our sleep and wakefulness, and is influenced by how the body reacts hormonally to light. Your internal body clock affects your mental and physical performance throughout the day. In order to create a healthy cognitive lifestyle, you need to manage and take advantage of your own natural body rhythms, here is why:
- A study by Rockefeller University of mice found that throwing off their natural circadian rhythms (day and night cycle) over the long term seriously disturbed their body and brain, causing weight gain, impulsivity, slower thinking, and other physiological and behavioral changes. It is similar to what people experience with shift work or jet lag.
- Your body rhythms influence your core body temperature. Research at the University of Colorado found that a number of performance measures improved when body temperature was elevated, including working memory, subjective alertness, visual attention, and reaction time.
As you have probably experienced in your life, you need to maintain the proper balance of sleep and awake time to effectively keep your body clock in balance. Furthermore, according to Dr. Noboru Kobayashi’s summary of the article Rhythms of Mental Performance in the journal Mind, Brain, and Education, “mental performance is influenced by three factors that include sleep rhythm, time awake, and core body temperature.” Based on the article’s authors, people can take the following actions to control these three factors in their daily lives in order to promote good mental performance:
- Enhance Your Performance Condition: By having a well-lit and quiet environment, you can improve mental performance for activities such as studying and planning. When adjusting the lighting, take into consideration the added reflection off paper, books, furniture, and computer screens.
- Pace Difficult Tasks: When performing tasks that require very focused concentration on complex information, you can avoid fatigue by taking frequent breaks or alternating between tasks or subjects.
- Select The Best Time of Day: You can choose the best times during the day to perform different tasks. For mental tasks, the morning or the first part of the day is the best time because mental performance declines with time awake. Physical and artistic activities are best performed towards the end of the day.
- Assure Proper Sleep Quality: The preparation of your internal body clock to help you perform mentally and physically throughout the day can be established by getting adequate sleep. You may be able to compensate for a lack of sleep by napping just after lunch, and by eating breakfast to compensate for hypoglycemia from fasting overnight.
How you manage your internal body clock and rhythms impact your mental and physical performance throughout the day. We all have a natural day and night cycle. The goal is to first determine if your normal body clock has been disturbed and is out of balance. If not, you can then notice your different body rhythms day and night, and experiment with ways to work best within them. By doing so, you can take a step towards creating a healthy cognitive lifestyle.
Complex Functions of the Central Nervous System, Sleep and Locomotion: Kenneth P. Wright, Jr., Joseph T. Hull, and Charles A. Czeisler, Relationship between alertness, performance, and body temperature in humans, Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol December 1, 2002283:(6) R1370-R1377; published ahead of print August 15, 2002, doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00205.2002
Kobayashi, Noboru, M.D., Mental Performance and Circadian Rhythm, Child Research Net
Society for Neuroscience (2009, October 26). Disruption Of Circadian Rhythms Affects Both Brain And Body, Mouse Study Finds. ScienceDaily