When we think about our health we focus on diet and exercise. Sleep quality, mindfulness, meditation, and spending time with loved ones might come to mind. But if we’re not honoring our natural circadian rhythm, we may be greatly limiting the benefits of these efforts.
A recent TEDx presentation from Dr. Satchin Panda, Professor at Salk Institute for Biological Studies, author of The Circadian Code, and a steward in the growing understanding of circadian rhythms, covers the importance of the circadian rhythm on overall health and the potential of circadian lighting for mitigating the disruption of our natural rhythms in modern lifestyles. It turns out that what matters is not only doing the right things, but when we do these things. From restricting our food consumption to a 12-hour period, to limiting our exposure to blue light to the hours of the sun, the body has a biological clock for each of its many functions.
Understanding the Circadian Rhythm
The circadian rhythm is the internal regulation system on a cellular level that signals the body’s biological clock and tells our body when to perform various functions, regulating healthy activity. It follows a daily cycle, taking its cues from the sun and responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism’s environment. Sleeping patterns, for instance, are regulated by circadian rhythm, signaling the body to sleep during dark periods and wake during light periods.
Most living things — humans, animals, plants and microbes — are regulated by circadian rhythms. In fact, each and every individual cell contains its own circadian rhythm. Similarly, the biological (or circadian) clock is a living organism’s innate timing device made up of molecules that interact with cells throughout the body to signal circadian rhythm cues. Thousands of genes are turned on and off at the appropriate time within the 24 hour cycle by circadian clocks. These rhythms work together to maintain healthy balance of brain chemicals, hormones, and nutrients.
The Health Effects of Timing
Although we are blue-sky-seeking creatures, modern technology has moved society indoors under artificial light. The lack of sunlight during the day and the high-levels of blue light into the evening throws off our circadian rhythm. This has led to a variety of health issues–from irregular sleeping patterns and fatigue to psychological stress and diseases.
Among Dr. Panda’s research are his findings about restricted eating. Panda tested a group of mice who ate within a 12-hour window against mice who ate the same number of calories during a longer time period. The mice with restricted eating became slimmer and healthier in general. This holds significant implications for the importance of upholding our circadian rhythms in every way possible. Light is among the most fundamental components to regulating our biological clock, and our daily choices can support our exposure to the right lighting.
Choose Lighting that Supports your Circadian Rhythm
Given the importance of timing for the body, what if there were a “biology-first” approach to technology?
As Dr. Panda explains in his presentation, a revolution is starting based on the concept that we need more bright blue light during the day and less light at night: “…Circadian lighting at daycare and schools will promote healthy brain development and promote learning. Circadian lighting at home, factories, offices, will promote alertness and improve productivity. Circadian lighting at hospitals or retirement homes will promote health and accelerate healing…We can have devices and sensors that can create a nice circadian lighting environment around us. Sensors can go on us to monitor our own circadian rhythm every day and how it interacts with the real outside world.”
Dr. Panda also mentions new circadian lighting in our International Space Station, which refers to technology developed by the BIOS team at NASA. Now, this technology has evolved into the SkyBlue® product: innovative lighting solutions that help humans and plants thrive daily. Unlike other circadian lighting, SkyBlue lighting communicates directly with circadian biology through the ipRGC — a non-visual photoreceptor in the eye — via a natural blue sky spectral wavelength, stimulating a biological response to encourage growth and health. Moreover, SkyBlue is spectrally-optimized lighting that mimics natural sunlight, helping people synchronize their circadian clocks to get in rhythm with the body’s evolutionary needs to promote better health. This circadian lighting is designed to mitigate or eliminate the range of health issues from living out of sync with our circadian rhythm.
As Dr. Panda exclaimed, “I truly believe that circadian rhythm has untapped potential to prevent, manage and cure many of the chronic diseases that affect billions of people.”