Laura Opening- Welcome back Dr. Breus. For all those who haven’t read your book ‘The Power of When’, here is a chance for them to learn more about your important work and pick up your book. Before we get to your ground breaking research, we first have to acknowledge the Nobel Peace Prize award in Physiology or Medicine that went to three doctors who have discovered molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm. Now when we just say this, many will wonder, well why would that matter to me?
At World Wise Beauty I try to present important research, medical science and wellness wisdom in real context. The first question I always ask is, ‘Why does it matter?’ But before we get to this, let’s start first with a simple question. What did this Nobel Prize winning research specifically unveil for us from a scientific perspective that is so ‘eye opening’? No pun intended!
Dr. Breus: The basics behind the research showed that in fruit flies (who actually have very similar circadian rhythms as humans) the researchers were able to isolate the gene that controls our daily biological clock. This gene encodes a protein that accumulates in a cell during the evening and degrades during the daytime. This clock regulates behavior, weight loss, hormones levels, sleep and body temperature. Understanding this mechanism helps us all understand why we experience jet lag, how our internal biological clocks affect disease, our hormones, and literally everything we do. As you may remember in my new book, ‘ The Power of When’ this is EXACTLY what I have been writing about.
Laura Q- Yes you did, and hopefully more people will discover your work with this post! Now that we understand how our genes control our daily biological clock, what does that really mean if we are all different bio-individuals?
Dr. Breus: Actually we are more similar than you might think. The genetic studies that are going on in Sleep Research are on “common species” areas.
Lauroly Q– Why do circadian rhythms matter and why does understanding our unique biological clocks matter to our health?
Dr. Breus: So here is where it gets so fascinating, when I was in school, we learned that basically there was one central biological clock for time passage ( aging) and there were a few others that controlled hormone regulation, etc. Now we have found over 100 different control centers in the body. They each send information to each other. I think of it like grand central station in New York City. There are trains coming from all over the place to one central location. If one train is late, it could mess up all of the other trains going in or out. So the timing of these clocks actually controls our health, completely. These systems have a regularity to them or a rhythm. They become predictable, and more efficient. This is how the immune system, metabolic system, sleep system, all systems function.
Lauroly Q- There is our answer. Sleep is a real regulator to everything in our ‘ biological system’. Should we all be in sync with sunrise and sunset for optimal health?
Dr. Breus: Yes, but it is really unrealistic to think that we can do it correctly. Remember that we have at least 4 different chronotypes, so there are some of us, who are more prone to late evenings and others who are morning people. As a side note, there was a great study on insomnia, where they took insomniacs out into the woods camping for 2 weeks. By the end of the study, everyone’s sleep had significantly improved. It was likely due to the sun exposure, and a reduction of EMF exposure talk about in sync with he sun!
Lauroly Q- In your book you identify many different types in the context of sleep needs. Does the circadian ‘sync’ vary from person to person?
Dr. Breus: It does vary based on Chronotype. Lions (early risers), Bears (in-betweeners), Wolves (late nighters) and Dolphins (poor sleepers). If you want to know your type go to www.thepowerofwhenquiz.com and get it for free.
Lauroly Q– So does this mean that some people are just genetically wired to be night owls?
Dr. Breus: Absolutely. I am. Interestingly enough you can even get this tested at 23 and Me, due to the genetic nature of chronotypes. It is based on the PER3 or Period 3 gene and its length. It effects sleep drive and timing.
Lauroly Q- While we are different genetically, is there still some unifying wellness wisdom when it comes to sleep that all human beings need to listen to?
Dr. Breus: Yes, consistency is the key. Most specifically in your wake up time, keep the same for weekdays and weekends, everything gets better, assuming you are sleeping by your chronotype.
Lauroly Q- The first thing I think of when it comes to circadian rhythms, is cultures living in the Northern Lights part of the world. How does the abundance of light exposure and then the significant decrease of light effect their circadian rhythms?
Dr. Breus: There are a lot of issues with sleep in these areas of the world. Sunlight appears to play a significant role in the human biology, from Vitamin D production to being the re-start button for the brain each morning.
Lauroly Q-Have their genes adapted over time living in these areas?
Dr. Breus: To a certain degree, yes. But I doubt that anyone is completely unaffected.
Lauroly Q- We know there is more depression associated with the decrease of light. I suppose even if you don’t live in these areas, but are vulnerable to depression, getting sunshine would be important. This correlates with the Vitamin D hormone that activates when we are exposed to the sun and then chemically regulates our serotonin synthesis. As we know, serotonin is one of the happy chemicals in our system. Take it from here Dr. Breus, I’m just trying to connect all the dots!
Dr. Breus: Light therapy is used in both depressive diagnoses and some sleep disorders. In depression the light helps re-set the persons circadian rhythms, which sends all of the other systems back in sync. This appears to play a role in the recovery from depression. While it is not the whole reason, it does seem to have a significant effect.
Laura Closing- Thank you for sharing your expertise with us Dr. Breus. Now that we are learning more about our biological clocks and our connection to nature, we can begin to see how everything is interdependent in wellness. As Plato so wisely said “The Part can Never be Well, unless the Whole is Well.” I encourage everyone to read ‘The Power of When’ and learn more about your own body’s internal clock. Sleeping will become a healthy habit, just like a good diet and exercise is.
Dr. Breus Closing: Thank you so much for having me, and if people want to learn more they can check out my website www.thesleepdoctor.com or learn your chronotype at www.thepowerofwhenquiz.com