There are many reasons for our increased stress levels – the use of technology and how it has changed our communication with each other and the world around us is complex and deeply integrated with our wellbeing. But where we used to follow seasons and the flow of the natural world around us, we have now created new rhythms and patterns and this has disrupted our Circadian Rhythm.
The term Circadian Rhythm refers to our body’s biological clock. This clock is observed across bird, reptile, and mammal species and is key for directing daily and seasonal behaviour patterns such as hibernation, eating and breeding. The light/dark cycle of the sun has a powerful effect on the circadian clock, sleep, and alertness. Our circadian clock responds to light, as a signal to be awake, and dark, as a signal to fall asleep. Increased light equals increased alertness, which equals increased stress.
Incandescent light bulbs were introduced in the late 19th century and since then our world has become awash in bright lights. Not only have artificial lights become a staple of our evening and early morning activities – we stare into backlit screens for several hours during the day too. From lamps that light up every street and city skyline all the way to constant mobile device use.
Our Circadian Rhythm is responsible for biological processes like brain wave patterns, hormone production and cell regulation. Studies show that the circadian cycle controls 10-15% of our genes.
Exposure to artificial light disrupts our internal clock regulation and has been linked to:
– Cardiovascular disease
– Immunity/Stress Response
All these conditions are quite clearly linked to our overall wellbeing. Your pineal gland releases the highest levels of melatonin when there’s darkness and decreases melatonin production when you’re exposed to light.
Melatonin triggers a host of biological activities, possibly including a nocturnal reduction in the body’s production of oestrogen. Sleep pattern disruption is thought to interfere with cancer suppression genes, leading to an increased risk of breast, prostate, gastric, and lung cancers.
Whilst things like financial stress, relationship tension, loss of a loved one and dealing with a global pandemic are all obvious causes of stress, a simple imbalance of our waking and sleeping lives can be equally harmful to our wellbeing. If you want to improve your quality of life, it’s not just about earning more money, or eating healthily, it’s about finding the right integration and balance of everything in your life.