Circadian Rhythms

This Sunday we jump into Daylight Savings Time moving our clocks ahead so that sunrise and sunset will be perceived to occur one hour later.  We have engaged in this spring and autumnal ritual of “springing forward” and “falling back” to “standard time” for several decades now.  Debates rage as to whether we should be engaging in these rituals. Why?

For one, we have come to realize how our bodies’ circadian rhythms linked to rotations of the earth cannot be fooled.  Our smartphones may automatically adjust but our bodies are not as easy to re-program.
The reality is, notwithstanding our machinations with respect to our clocks, we continue to sync with the Sun. Indeed most Ancient and indigenous traditions got their cues and developed all types of healthy practices with a conscious account of the Sun.

Today scientists recognize that the master clock in our brain is pretty hardwired to the 24 hour light/dark cycle.   All physiological, metabolic, and biochemical systems in our bodies get their cues from it.  It is not an exaggeration to say that most – if not all – of our modern ailments begin with lifestyles that do not respect this synchronization.  Everything from hormonal imbalances to metabolic disruptions, to inflammatory processes and compromised immunity – can be traced to the cumulative disruptions that result as we try to override these signals to accommodate the demands of our modern lifestyles.  (read “How Messing With Our Body Clocks Can Raise Alarms With Health”, NPR article.)

Only in the past few years have modern scientists begun to document how, in addition to the master clock in our brains, every cell in our body has a timekeeping mechanism. In 2017 a Nobel prize was awarded to scientists who researched how our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day helping to regulate important functions such as sleep and metabolism.

Take your sleep, for example. We now understand that without a daily reset from the rising sun, cortisol levels can quickly become misaligned and disrupt function throughout the body. Not to mention the stresses of the modern world coupled with artificial light, which leave most with chronically elevated cortisol levels, further complicating our natural rhythm.

Ancient Chinese medicine has an elaborate understanding of how time impacts our biological functions and indeed much of what we do with acupuncture is “re-program” the body to adjust to these circadian disruptions.  In fact every organ is understood to have its own metabolism, rhythm, frequency —  its own “Qi.”   The famous Chinese Circadian Clock that informs when certain organs’ reach optimal metabolic functioning is just one example of how the concept of time plays a primordial role in how we diagnose and treat ailments.  In addition, we understand that the time of day and season that you come in for treatment must often be taken into account to properly diagnose the imbalance.  Whether it is sleep disruptions, ailments related to hormonal imbalances, or improving immune function we have approaches that take these circadian disruptions into account to formulate your individual treatments.

There are many mindful ways you can — at home — better sync with the sun and respect these rhythms to improve your health.  Here are just a few suggestions…..

Self Care – Natural Light Treatment

Before the regular use of artificial lighting, humans spent their evenings in a slow transition to nighttime darkness. With the regular use of cell phones, computers, tablets, and TVs, it is easy to see the correlation between nighttime light stimulation and insomnia for adults and children alike. Unnatural light exposure, specifically blue light exposure, throws off our body’s biological clock or circadian rhythm.

The human circadian rhythm – our natural, internal process that regulates the sleep–wake cycle repeats roughly every 24 hours.  For those of us who stay up late, our circadian rhythms begin to be stretched, and those who wake up before the body is fully rested will tend to have shorter circadian cycles. Both come with negative side-effects. If you fall into one of these categories here are some tips as to how you can get better sleep: 

  • Align with nature: be outside as often as possible during the day.
  • Red light as opposed to blue light is less likely to suppress melatonin and mess with the circadian rhythm. Consider changing a few of your lights to red light spectrum bulbs for the evening hours.
  • Turn off all the digital devices at least an hour before you go to bed.
  • If you must be exposed to light at night, say for example you work the night shift, dim your screens as much as possible and consider purchasing a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Sleep is an essential part of your wellbeing. Insomnia is a complex issue involving cognitive, behavioral, environmental, and physiological factors. There is no one size fits all cure. BUT the good news is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) offers a vast array of unique diagnostic tools to evaluate and treat the main cause(s) for your sleeplessness.  Make an appointment with us if the quality of your sleep is not optimal.

Dao of Flow: Ways to Mind Time


Self-care that pays mind to our circadian rhythms does not mean we forsake our modern lifestyle.  It just asks that now, armed with the knowledge, we devise practical ways to honor those rhythms in intelligent, inspired ways.  Can we be more effective with our time?

In our society time management is often tied with anxiety which is the first line of reaction when we feel disconnected with our natural rhythms. 

On a regular vlog/podcast Dr. Paul C. Wang, (who has spoken at Harlem Chi in the past) provides fresh perspectives on self-care that goes beyond conventional advice melding inspired philosophy with practical engagement.  In this recent vlog Paul discusses how we relate with time and what practices we can incorporate to mind that time to overcome anxiety and overwhelm.

He addresses the following questions, and much more:

  1. How to make best use of your time and not get overwhelmed with anxiety
  2. How to get into the “flow”
  3. How to rejuvenate through meditation
  4. How to “see” time from a bird’s eye view
  5. How to rest in a state of timelessness
  6. How to allocate your time between “being” and “doing” in a way that promotes healing
  7. How to step out of linear time pulling us into the past and preoccupying us with the future to “create a space of mystery, curiosity, and openness” and creativity.

Grab a cup of tea….

“Healer Within” Spring Reboot

Circadian rhythms also determine how and when we best digest our food and that affects our metabolism.  This is just one of many subjects we explore during our “Healer Within” SpringReboot.  How we nourish ourselves and connect with our food is perhaps the area where we have most agency over our health.

Springtime is a great time to clean out the winter cobwebs and – as a patient recently keenly expressed — “3 years of COVID winter” as well.  On April 2nd we will convene Harlem Chi’s “Healer Within” 21-day Spring ReBoot! This time we are back to being in-person!

Join us if you’d like to significantly improve your health by confidently making food your ally!  As a group we will embark and support each other on a healthy plant-based cleanse while working through and tackling head on the stumbling blocks we often face when trying to sustain the proper mindset and habits for the long-haul.  Find out more here.  Early Bird special ends on March 26.

Johanne Picard-Scott
Latest posts by Johanne Picard-Scott (see all)

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.