As I continue my learning journey, I am becoming increasingly struck by how statements such as ‘listen to your body’ would appear to be intuitively connected to neuroscience.
Whether it is my age; a drive to enhance and improve the quality of work cultures; devise meaningful and well-being focused development opportunities, being a parent or just an increased mindfulness and awareness of well-being, I find myself reflecting on how much we now know about our brains and also how much we don’t; the great news is this science is becoming increasingly accessible.
Take for example a little thing called the ‘circadian rhythm’. Some of you may know of this already as the sleep clock, or the day-night clock but until recently I did not fully appreciate just what an amazing evolution it is and how much I have not been a good custodian of my circadian rhythm.
First here’s the science bit.
The circadian rhythm spans 24 hours in line with our planet’s orbit and is linked to us being active during daylight and sedentary during night. It is controlled by a part of the brain called the Supra Chiasmatic Nucleus (SCN). This is reactive to light and triggers or suppresses the production of melatonin which is the agent that tells our body and brain that it’s time to slow down and get ready to sleep. Why we sleep is open to debate, what we do know as a result of neuroscience is it assists with cell rejuvenation, moves the day’s data into memory and restocks energy levels in our brain’s function. Thinking and behaving are after all energy consuming activities, especially with all those synapses firing off like little bolts of lightning.
So, if light/dark are the key triggers for our SCN what does our 24-hour connected society pose as potential disruptors to our rhythm?
It is known that ‘blue’ light used in phones and laptops is attractive and welcoming but equally impact’s our health. There is sound neurological reasoning as to why we should not be exposed to it at night. This light, even in small doses, confuses our circadian rhythm into thinking it’s daylight – so try to dim the light at night even if you can’t remove it completely.
Consider this: what is the price of being up late finishing that last email, last-minute procrastinated paper/report submission or game you want to complete? It will undoubtedly affect your sleep and knock on to the following day. Long term sleep deprivation has serious issues for our well-being and mental health and is well researched and documented.
On the positive side expose yourself to as much natural light as possible during the day. As well as suppressing melatonin it gives us a welcome shot of vitamin D. And in the workplace, whatever your role, try to develop nudges that highlight the importance of circadian rhythms.
Evolution has got us to this rhythm and I wonder what impact this connected society will have on the future evolution of our circadian rhythm .
Be a good custodian and look after your circadian rhythm.
Chartered MCIPD, BSc (Hons) HRM, PGCE
Emotional Intelligence Thought Leader & Collaborator