Tune in to nature’s body clock to maximise your health
Posted on September 17th, 2016

Being aware of your circadian rhythms can boost your energy levels, focus and performance.

Most of us pack as much into our days as we can. We cram in work, socialising, gym sessions and endless ferrying around of the kids without thinking twice about our body clock. The result, experts now claim, could be that we disrupt the body’s natural daily cycle, leaving us exhausted at times when we should feel alert, and vice versa.

A growing body of research suggests that we should pay more attention to the body clock, also known as our circadian rhythms — natural cycles that occur in the body over a 24-hour period that tell us when to eat, sleep and wake.

Your body needs an hour to process alcohol before you try to go to sleep

This week Canadian researchers found that women’s circadian clocks were on average two hours ahead of men’s, meaning that women should go to bed 1.7 to 2.3 hours earlier than men.

But it’s not only sleep that is influenced by circadian rhythms. Science shows that there are peak times for many aspects of our lives and that by aligning our body clock with our daily schedule, we can be happier, healthier and even slimmer.

The perfect time to wake up is 7.22am
As daylight hits the retinas in your eyes, the production of sleep-inducing hormones such as melatonin slows down. Conversely, the stress hormone cortisol begins to rise, preparing the body for the day ahead. Setting your alarm for 7.22am seems to offset the rise of these stress hormones, according to a study at the University of Westminster. Researchers found that people waking up earlier than that — between 5.22am and 7.21am — had higher levels of stress hormones, which remained high throughout the day.

If you’re going to drink coffee, drink it at 3pm, not in the morning
The best time to drink coffee — or caffeine in general — is between 2pm and 5pm, according to a study carried out by the University of Sheffield a few years ago. Caffeine has less of a negative impact on levels of stress hormones at this time of day and can provide a mental boost.

Avoid coffee first thing, however, because researchers have suggested that the early morning is the worst time to drink it. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol circulate in our bodies at this time and caffeine consumption interferes with its production. The upshot is that the body produces less cortisol, relying more heavily on caffeine to compensate.

Do yoga or go for a walk before breakfast
Levels of PAI-1, a substance involved in blood clotting, peak at about 6am-7am. For our hunter-gatherer ancestors PAI-1 was protective, but today it can raise the risk of blockages in our plaque-lined arteries and is one of the reasons why the incidence of heart attacks and strokes peaks at about 9am. Some studies have shown that a pre-breakfast workout can help to control levels of PAI-1 in the body, as well as aiding weight loss. A study at the University of Glasgow also reported that a morning workout led to a bigger reduction in artery-clogging blood fats.

Eat breakfast at 8am
In a study published last year researchers found that blood sugar levels stabilised when breakfast was consumed at about 8am, while another research team from Umea University, Sweden, suggested that people who ate a regular breakfast during their teens were 32 per cent less likely to have metabolic syndrome — a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity that can put you at greater risk of heart disease — as an adult.

Do important tasks at 11am, when your brain is at peak function
Body temperature rises gradually from just before waking through to early afternoon. Several studies have shown increased core body temperature is associated with heightened mental alertness, resulting in better working memory, alertness and general concentration by late morning.

Weightlifting sessions are best done at lunchtime
Levels of the hormone testosterone, important for power during workouts, drop steadily throughout the day. Studies show that strength output of muscles is highest at about midday, making this is the best time to do a weights session.

The best time to run or cycle is 5pm
Studies have shown the hours of 3pm to 6pm to be the best time for an endurance workout. Lung function, which is important for aerobic exercise, is 17.6 per cent more efficient at 5pm than at midday, according to a study of 4,756 patients at Albany Medical College in Albany, New York.

Workouts also feel easier at 5pm than earlier in the day, partly because our receptiveness to pain is lower in the afternoon, meaning we can push further, according to studies at Liverpool John Moores University.

The least damaging time to have a glass of wine is 6.30pm
At this time of day alcohol has less of a negative effect on cognitive ability in the short-term than it does later. On average, your body needs an hour to process alcohol before you try to sleep. Drinking late can disrupt the sleep process, sending you straight into deep sleep, but missing out the usual first stage of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

The benefits of a workout can be negatively affected by alcohol. A recent study published in the Plos One journal looked at the impact of drinking after a gym session on muscle-building and recovery from exercise. Exercisers who had completed an intense workout followed by several alcoholic drinks experienced a 37 per cent decrease in muscle protein synthesis.

Eat dinner at 7pm
Our body’s ability to process and store glucose is less efficient in the evening. Indeed, an experiment by nutritionists at the University of Surrey found that blood glucose levels after an evening meal were much higher than when the same meal was consumed earlier in the day. High levels of glucose in the blood are a warning for diabetes. Eat your evening meal early, about 7pm, and keep it light. Stomach acid production peaks between 10am and 2pm, which helps to digest food.

Avoid carbs before bedtime
A cocktail of hormones including cortisol, glucagon and epinephrine are released by the body just before dawn, causing the liver to dump glucose into the bloodstream. This is thought to cause a brief period of insulin resistance and blood sugar chaos that means that levels can be abnormally high first thing, a risk for people with diabetes. According to Diabetes UK, avoiding carbohydrates before bedtime the night before can help to reduce the effect.

Go to bed before 11pm
The optimal time to go to bed is between 9pm and 11pm, when your body temperature starts to drop and the brain begins to produce the sleep hormone melatonin.

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