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Shelagh investigates her body clock

Monday 12 May 2014, 16:32

Shelagh Fogarty Shelagh Fogarty

shelagh image body clock.jpg


If you've ever taken a long haul flight, or worked nightshifts, you’ll know that your body clock quickly pays the price. Now scientists and doctors are getting closer to understanding exactly why.

Human beings have long evolved to accommodate the fact the world turns according to periods of light and darkness, day and night. Our bodies can anticipate, not just react to, that circadian rhythm (circadia means 'about a day'). The body can prepare the immune system to adapt to what is coming. So what's happening when the rhythm goes wrong?

To find out more I spent four days and nights wearing a small gadget on my leg that could read my circadian rhythms. I was suffering from quite severe back pain at the time which was disturbing my normally perfect slumbers. I kept schtum as the team at Manchester Royal Infirmary put the reader on to me and wondered what they'd make of what they saw in my results. They found "some evidence of sleep disruption, likely due to pain". Bingo! You can see my results pictured above, which I will explain on my programme on Tuesday.

Scientists have known for some time that the time of day impacts diseases. Heart attacks happen predominantly in the early hours of the morning, arthritis sufferers experience most pain around the time they wake, and people with asthma experience more difficulties overnight. So before you run out to buy that hypoallergenic pillow you might want to know more about how hardwired the activities of your cells are.

David Ray, Professor of Medicine and Endocrinology at the University of Manchester, says every single cell in your body has its own miniature clock to tell night from day and the cells driving disease are clock controlled over any 24 hour period. He says while one in five of all proteins in the body is governed by the circadian clock, scientists have found that even if locked away in the dark for a period of 24 hours, they will still oscillate according to the body's circadian rhythm - the body clock. This means treatments could be tailored to the individual's own clock and be more effective.

So what is modern life doing to our circadian rhythms? Challenging them for sure, according to Professor Ray, who says computer and smart phone screens in particular with their blue light can be very disruptive and put our cells' clocks out of synch with one another, increasing the possibility of disease. 

If you want to stay healthy, the good news is you can develop a relationship with your body clock that supports it, rather than tries to override its natural rhythm. The bad news is it involves discipline and early rising! Your body clock will thank you for regular behaviour, going outside as early as possible, moving about a lot during the day, not eating late, and resting when it's dark. Go forth and tick!

Hear Shelagh's full results from midday on Tuesday 13 May.


Shelagh Fogarty 12-2 Tuesday 13 May


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