The reason why we feel sleepy at night and wake up in the morning without an alarm clock is because of a natural body clock known as the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms can be found throughout the plant and animal kingdoms: they are responsible for regulating our eating and sleeping patterns. While science knows much about how the body clock works, there is still a lot that is unknown.
A recent study conducted by the Salk Institute in the United States and Professor Chris Liddle of the University of Sydney sheds new light on circadian rhythms and may lead to effective treatments that will allow us to "reset" our body clocks when they get thrown out of rhythm. Previously, it was assumed that receptors in the brain alone were probably responsible for regulating or upsetting circadian rhythms, but Prof. Liddle and his colleagues discovered that 2 receptors in the liver were just as important.
Aside from telling you when it is time to eat, the liver receptors also tell the liver when it is time to start processing nutrition. When the researchers removed those receptors, the liver had no way of knowing when to "go to work." The implication of this to health is that disturbed circadian rhythms can be a factor in obesity and diabetes. It is not a coincidence that shift workers, whose work disturbs their body clocks, are more prone to obesity and diabetes than the general public.
Natural Therapies for Resetting the Body Clock
While the Salk Institute and Prof. Liddle were excited by their discovery and looked forward to finding drug therapies to help improve liver function and aid in easing the symptoms of common jet lag, natural therapists, too, are concerned with circadian rhythms and natural ways to reset the body clock. Amongst the many natural treatments for jet lag and other body clock disorders, some of the most commonly used include:
- Melatonin: A naturally occurring hormone, melatonin is released by the pineal gland. Melatonin helps relax us into sleep. Normally, it is secreted automatically in the absence of light. Melatonin supplements are said to help reset the body clock and adjust to changes in our environment such as those that occur when we rapidly cross time zones and suffer from jet lag.
- Homoeopathy: Homoeopathic remedies for sleep disorders are available. These are specially blended combinations of herbs that work together to treat specific disorders. Over the counter homoeopathic remedies for jet lag are available, but for other circadian rhythm related conditions, it is advisable to consult a Homoeopath.
- Valerian root is a natural remedy for sleeplessness often recommended by herbalists. Because our body clocks set themselves in 24 hour cycles, changing time zones often results in sleepless nights. Many users find that Valerian is powerful enough to help them fall asleep at their desired time and reset their body clocks much faster than is otherwise possible. The "hangover" felt after taking prescription sleeping pills is also said to be absent after taking Valerian root.
Both conventional and alternative medicine are learning more all the time about how the body works and how to keep it healthy. The latest findings by Prof. Liddle and the Salk Institute are one more link in the chain of evidence that shows that the body is a holistic mechanism of inter-related parts and functions. Keeping the body clock "ticking" smoothly is as important as right diet and exercise. Fortunately, there are already ways you can reset your body clock and even more treatments are sure to come.