Our bodies are miraculous machines, finely tuned for optimal health. That is, until we disrupt the healthy aging biorhythms that regulate well-being, inviting disease and accelerating the aging process.
Circadian rhythms, or the internal clocks that govern our sleep and awake patterns, are the most familiar types of biorhythms. But did you know that your circadian clock also regulates a host of other body functions, such as metabolism and temperature control? And if our internal clocks malfunction, serious health issues can arise.
Healthy Aging Biorhythms
Researchers at MIT published findings in 2013 from experiments on mice that proved circadian performance declines with aging. That may be one of the many reasons older people often can be heard lamenting the difficulties of sleeping soundly through the night.
Senior researcher Leonard Guarante said at the time that nearly every bodily function is timed to biorhythmic cycles. “What’s now emerging is the idea that maintaining the circadian cycle is quite important in health maintenance, and if it gets broken, there’s a penalty to be paid in health and perhaps aging,” he said.
Guarante and his team attributed the phenomenon to a decline in SIRT1, a gene that protects us against diseases related to aging and plays a key role in the timing of our circadian rhythms.
Digging Deeper to Reveal Ultradian Rhythms
Digging a little deeper, we discover our bodies self-regulate through as series of ultradian rhythms, or mini-cycles of rest that repeat throughout a 24-hour period. In other words, that urge to take a coffee break at 10 a.m. is a very normal response to an ultradium rhythm firing in your body.
Mary Delaney, a psychologist in private practice as a psychotherapist for more than 30 years, guides beyond circadian rhythms and directs us to tune into ultradian rhythms. She describes ultradian rhythms as the body’s natural healing rhythms.
“Excessive and chronic stress cause symptoms by distorting our ultradian and circadian rhythms,” she points out. “You can ameliorate these symptoms by providing an opportunity for the mind-body rhythms to naturalize themselves.”
So how do we do that? Delaney advocates for 20-minute “rejuvenation” periods every 90 minutes. “We hear a lot about cycles of peak performance. But cycles of recovery and healing are just as important. Most people today have an ultradian rest-rejuvenation deficit.”
A familiar example is the urge to take a mid-morning break from your work. You may take a coffee break and re-energize with caffeine, or you can take a 20-minute rejuvenation break and add some meditation or deep breathing to that time.
Our bodies are signaling for mini-breaks throughout the day through our ultradian rhythms. We just have to listen. “Modern life has us overriding these natural cycles,” Delaney explains. “They all take us to this place of ignoring our healing rhythms at the expense of productivity and our health.
“There are those people who will say, ‘I’ll rest when I’m dead.’ In reality, you need to rest when you need it. The more we ignore these rhythms, the less effective we become,” she says.
However, as we grow older, we tend to accept sleep disturbances and being chronically tired as badge of aging. “Sleep deprivation is the most common brain impairment,” Delaney says. And studies have shown that chronic sleep deprivation may in fact lead to permanent brain damage.
Delaney describes the three most common areas of life that can lead to insomnia:
- Psychological (stress, anxiety, depression)
- Medical (sleep apnea, chronic pain, illness, disease, medication)
- Environmental (dog barking, noise, too much light, caffeine)
Here’s a rejuvenation remedy that Delaney recommends regularly to her patients. She calls it the gravity position and assures that just 15 minutes in this position stimulates the circulatory system and provides the brain with the equivalent of a two- to three-hour nap. “The gravity position will actually give you energy,” she says. “It’s the equivalent of a power nap.”
- Find a quite place, preferably on a carpet or thick blanket
- Lay on the ground with a chair in front of you. As an alternative, you can also do this on a sofa or bed with a stack of pillows in front of you.
- Rest your calves on the seat of the chair (or on the pillows) with your knees at a 90-degree angle. Ensure your lower back and spine are comfortable.
- Close your eyes, rest arms and hands at sides or place arms and hands on abdomen.
- Inhale deeply, breathe correctly, and concentrate on relaxing the body and mind.
- Rest comfortably for 15 minutes.
Warning: If you use this technique at night, go directly to bed. The relaxation effects disappear if you stay up even a minute before getting into bed. In fact, the result will be more energy and you will feel alert, unable to go to sleep for one to two hours.