Light effects on Circadian Rhythms

Ken Kloes

Most people function on a 24 hour cycle alternating between awake and sleep periods also known as your Circadian rhythm.  Factors such as feeding schedules, physical activity and social interactions can affect this cycle.  However by far, the biggest influence on this rhythm is light.  This is why we naturally have a tendency to sleep at night and function awake during the day when the sun is present.

Your body reacts to stimulus.  When you move into a hot room your heart rate increases, pumping more blood to your outer body parts and skin so that excess heat is lost to the environment and sweating occurs.  You don’t need to think your body into doing this, it reacts all on it’s own to maintain a stable internal environment.

You can think of light stimuli in the same way.  In the morning as the sun rises, light automatically stimulates certain areas of your brain to secrete chemicals that excite your nervous system to become more active and you wake up.  As the sun goes down your brain detects this and begins to secrete chemicals that promote initiation of sleep.  The Circadian drive to sleep is most pronounced in the early morning hours.

If your sleeping environment is bright from a light or television on, window shades open or maybe even the color of your walls, this can have an effect on your sleep, especially in those predawn hours.   Make your room darker with paint or blackout shades creating an inviting ‘sleep cave’.  Eye pillows can even reduce the light reaching your brain through your eyes.  

Managing your light and dark settings where you sleep can have a significant affect on the duration and quality of your sleep.  Something to consider if sleep is a bit elusive during those wee hours of the morning!

Wake up & smell the tea

Dr. Ruddy, ND

Though coffee is often touted as a choice beverage with myriads of health benefits (true in the right context), in my clinical practice I all too often witness the other side of the story, where coffee proves to be the major culprit in a slew of chronic health symptoms: headaches/migraines, indigestion/heartburn, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue, to name a few. For the modern yogis today living a presumably busy/demanding life outside their yoga mat, I find coffee a risky choice for a long-term, sustainable yoga practice. This is due to its unpredictably high amount of caffeine, which exaggerates our body's daytime "fight-or-flight" response (via catecholamines, our stress hormones). Over time this can irreversibly deplete the adrenal function needed for healthy aging. We can thus think of our adrenal glands as our "rechargeable batteries", which already recharge less optimally in the long run even without the effects of caffeine. For those of us seeking a quality beverage with low or no caffeine, here are some worthy contenders with their own unique health properties: 


1. Green Tea: rich in catechins (antioxidants), incl. ECGC that enhances metabolism (fat burning); also high in L-theanine, which helps regulate mood & focus, hence the "lift" without the "jitters" or "crash" attributed to coffee. Tip: Organic means less pesticides. 

2. Yerba Mate: contains mateine, a stimulant with less diuretic effect than caffeine; xanthines including theobromine, another feel-good stimulant more commonly associated with chocolate. Tip: Dr. Ruddy's favorite is Mate Chocolatte by Guayaki (with a splash of chocolate hazelnut milk)! 

3. Ginger: rich in volatile oils that help aid digestion, anti-inflammation, muscle & joint health, and reduce fatigue. Tip: for those aware of their ownAyurvedic constitution (thanks, David Lincecum!), add honey to relieve Kapha, rock sugar to relieve Pitta, and rock salt to relieve Vataconstitution."

HYDRATION AND NUTRITION STRATEGIES FOR A SUSTAINABLE, LONG-TERM HOT YOGA PRACTICE

Dr. Ruddy, ND

The practice of yoga in a hot room is essentially a unique hybrid of a beginner's (foundational) asana practice and "depuration" (purification) technique (think "sweat lodge"). On one hand, hot yoga can elevate the breath-enhancing hatha yoga practice to a whole new realm of self-restoration. On the other hand, without the most basic self-care measures, it can also lead to risk of temporary, as well as long-term, "prana" depletion. As a long-time devotee of disciplined Hot Yoga practice (1,400-something classes in the span of 14 years), I'm able to share some basic considerations for any hot yogi worth his/her salt (and sweat!) to live by:

1. Hydration: it takes only 2% water loss to register thirst, and another 2% to risk fainting. It takes merely 7% total water loss to initiate organ damage. If you're planning to attend any hot classes, remember to pre-hydrate, hydrate, and rehydrate. Ideally, with a pinch of high quality (Celtic, Himalayan) salt in your beverage container.

2. Water-soluble micronutrients: along with water loss, when we sweat we deplete our nutritional reserves during a heightened state of focus during a hot yoga class. Whereas macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) are largely responsible for our daily stamina, micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) contribute to our daytime fuel efficiency and nighttime tissue repair/healing. Something as simple as Magnesium alone is responsible for 300+ chemical reactions, and is a key nutrient for maintaining our muscle tone; be it heart, skeletal system, or digestive tract. Another common mineral deficiency is Zinc, critical for stomach/intestinal health, baseline immune function, and our integumentary system (skin, hair, and nails, all which protect our body from undue water loss). As a group, B vitamins are critical for our optimal nerve health (stress adaptation) as well as our liver detox function, among countless other roles.


A Hot Yogi' supplemental "cheat sheet":
 

  • B vitamins: select a food-based B complex that also includes folate and biotin.
  • Magnesium: higher quality also means gentler and better absorbed, so choose from glycinate, taurate/taurinate, or malate form.
  • Zinc: opt for picolinate, methionine, cysteine or carnosine version.
  • Do not exceed label serving recommendation. Inform your doctor when taking supplements as well as of any existing medications."