Forget the clock on your wall, on your wrist or in your smartphone. When it comes to growing healthier and more energetic, the latest research says that working with (or against) your body clock (circadian rhythm) makes a big difference in your health and happiness.
In a recent Canadian study, researchers found that Eastern time zone pro sports teams faced a body-clock-related disadvantage when they played night games on the West Coast. The reason: Physical performance peaks in late afternoon and early evening, when body temperature is at a daily high, supporting muscle strength, endurance, speed and flexibility. But the body clocks of Eastern NFL, NHL and NBA teams were running on a different schedule that had them playing long after the day’s prime time was past. (How did those Cavs win in Oakland?)
Turns out your circadian rhythm causes physical, mental and behavioral changes, and responds primarily to light and darkness. It affects everything from sleep and alertness to the release of hormones and various bodily functions. So here’s how to work with your body’s timekeeper for better health:
Use your inner clock to maintain a healthier weight. Close your kitchen by 7 p.m. In one recent study, overweight people who ate only during a 10- to 12-hour period each day dropped seven pounds in 16 weeks, increased energy levels and enjoyed sounder sleep. Others who grazed for at least 15 hours a day triggered what scientists called metabolic jet lag, which messed up their body clocks, opening the door to weight gain and other health issues. So enjoy three healthy meals a day, instead of grazing all day and all evening.
Bonus tip: Weigh yourself in the morning after a sound night’s rest. Your weight will be lower in the a.m., because overnight we lose about a half-pound of water as we breathe and perspire. Plus, weighing yourself at the same time (but don’t do it every day) will give you more accurate and comparable readings.
Tap into your sleep cycle’s ability to boost your energy. A Stanford University study of 15,863 people found that living in a city that’s brightly lit at night interferes with quantity and quality of sleep. You end up battling daytime sleepiness and feeling more overall fatigue because light at night messes with your body clock. So pull down your shades, shut your curtains and banish electronic devices from your bedroom. Use only red wavelength bulbs at night in your bedroom and bathroom. You’ll wake feeling far more refreshed.
It’s also a good idea to spend as much time as you can outside during the day so you can take advantage of light’s energizing effects. Head outdoors when you have a break at work, or take five minutes every once in a while to stand at a sunny window. In a Cornell University study, hospital nurses exposed to natural light at work laughed more, were more alert and communicated more with co-workers than those whose work stations were lit only by artificial light.
Time your meds to work with your body clock’s effect on various body functions. Taking blood-pressure drugs at night, for example, supports the natural, early-morning blood pressure dip that gives your cardiovascular system a much-needed break. In one Spanish study people who did this cut their risk for heart attack and stroke by 61 percent. Some statins also should be taken at night (ask your doc if yours is one of them). Those drugs block a liver enzyme involved with cholesterol production; it’s usually more active at night.
Make dentist appointments that work with your body clock. Scheduling a dental appointment for a root canal? Ask for an afternoon time slot, when anesthesia lasts longer, according to German researchers, and teeth are the least sensitive to pain. Bonus tip: Brush teeth about a half-hour after each meal; waiting gives saliva time to neutralize acids from foods and drinks, so brushing won’t damage tooth enamel.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.