Heed Your Body's
Internal Clock
By Robert Preidt - HealthSCOUT Reporter
SUNDAY (HealthSCOUT) - If you ignore your body's natural clock by working and playing at any time of the day or night, you could set a time bomb for illness, injury and even death, sleep experts say.
"If you don't listen to your body, you will pay the price," says Dr. Harvey Moldofsky, director of the Centre for Sleep and Chronobiology at the University of Toronto.
And the price of ignoring your natural sleep patterns can range from aches and pains to heart disease to chronic fatigue syndrome. A regular bedtime can be as important to your health as stopping smoking or cutting back on saturated fat, says an article in the June 3 issue of New Scientist.
Your biological clock, nestled in the hypothalamus region of your brain, controls what time you eat and rest, the rhythmic surge of hormones, changes in body temperature, immune system activity and a host of other body functions.
Different people have different sleep patterns. Some are morning people while others are nocturnal creatures. Problems arise when you ignore your natural body rhythms to meet the demands of work or family, says the article.
"People who restrict their sleep or are engaged in shift work where sleep becomes fragmented and disturbed are at risk for cardiovascular disease. This has been shown in nurses who have been engaged in shift work over a long period of time. They show an increased risk for heart attacks," Moldofsky says.
Sleep debt can also contribute to depression, and lost sleep creates dangers at work and on the roads, he says.
"Sleep deprivation results in impairment in people's capabilities to operate in their usual, expected way, and they would not necessarily know that they are impaired," Moldofsky says.
"There are a lot of those people in the industrialized Western world who are restricting their sleep time, and consequently are impaired in their thinking and their ability to remain alert, and this could conceivably result in harm to themselves or others," Moldofsky says.
Most people require roughly seven to eight hours of sleep a night to stay alert through the day, and he says they should know the warning signs when they're not getting enough sleep.
"I think the most obvious is that they are aware that they're tired, fatigued, their performance is impaired, they might be irritable, they might be making a lot of mistakes and they might feel they're becoming depressed," Moldofsky says.
Evolution created our body clocks, says Jim Waterhouse, a chronobiologist at John Moores University, Liverpool, England.
"The whole of our physiology and of our chemistry is made to make us work during the daytime and sleep at night," he says.
"The clock does two things. It dichotomizes us between daytime activity and nighttime inactivity, but also, and just as importantly, it enables us to prepare for those switches," Waterhouse says.
Your internal body clock can adjust to gradual changes in daylight throughout the year, but it can't cope with the rapid-fire changes of our modern lifestyles, he says.
Waterhouse has a suggestion for those who work night shifts.
"As a chronobiologist, the advice you give to a person is on your days off, do not revert to normal living habits. Continue to try and stay awake as much of the night as you can and continue to have at least three to four hours' sleep during the daytime."
What To Do
For more information about sleep disorders and the dangers of not getting enough sleep, go to the < for Sleep and Chronobiology, or the < Sleep Foundation.

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