The biological processes within our bodies are synchronized to the daily planetary cycles of light and darkness. By understanding the nature of these cycles, and adjusting our daily routines accordingly, we can better support our body’s natural biological functions. The ancient science of Ayurveda divides the daily cycles into six 4-hour segments. Even though there are variations in the ratio of light to darkness as the Earth moves through its annual cycle around the Sun, the timing of the body’s internal activities remains relatively consistent throughout the year.
The Six Daily Biological Cycles
6:00 AM to 10:00 AM
The first cycle begins with the ‘birth’ of a new day. Let’s assume that sunrise occurs at 6 am. About an hour before sunrise, nature starts to awaken, becoming increasingly active as the sun rises to higher positions. Likewise, during this first segment of the day, your body is still a bit slow, but gradually gathers strength and stamina.
At around 6 am, the kidney glands secrete the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline to get your body going, similar to a battery starting an engine. This is also the time when the sex hormones in the body reach their peak levels. And, provided your eyes are open to see the natural light of the day, the brain increases its production of the powerful hormone serotonin, which helps you start your day on a positive note.
10:00 AM to 2:00 PM
By 10 am, the energy of the sun begins to increase, reaching its peak levels by about noon. During this 2-hour period, we are at our most alert and cognitive best. At noontime, the digestive energies reach their peak efficiency, and the digestive juices (bile, hydrochloric acid, enzymes, etc.) are profuse and concentrated. For this reason, it is best to eat your main meal of the day between 12 noon and 1 pm. Provided the food you eat is wholesome and nourishing, the digestive process will provide you with the energy and vitality you need during the remainder of the day.
2:00 PM to 6:00 PM
During this period, digestion of the noon meal continues. This segment of the day is conducive to efficient mental performance due to increased nerve cell activity. This makes it a good time to absorb and retain information. Studies conducted at the University of Wales showed that students who had afternoon or early-evening classes performed better in exams than those who had morning classes.
If there have been ongoing problems of poor intestinal absorption and unbalanced metabolism, they would likely become more pronounced at this time. Such an imbalance may manifest as increased irritability, nervousness and cravings for sugary foods or other stimulants such as tea, coffee, soft drinks, chocolate or cigarettes. Most alcoholics will start looking for their first drink during the latter part of this period.
6:00 PM to 10:00 PM
As the energies from the sun begin to fade, the physiological activities of the body such as digestion and metabolism begin to slow down. Those who are in tune with their body cycles usually feel inclined to take it easy with the arrival of the evening hours. For these reasons, it is best to eat only a light dinner, preferably at around 6 pm. This gives your body enough time to digest your food before bedtime. Research has found that the most important digestive enzymes are no longer produced after 8 pm. Eating a meal later in the evening (after 7 pm) will, therefore, not be properly digested and will decompose while it is still in the stomach.
Most people begin to feel sleepy or drowsy between 9 pm and 10 pm. This sleepiness or drowsiness results from the secretion of a natural tranquillizer that the brain makes when it wants you to go to sleep. According to researchers from Harvard Medical School, most of the brain cells are ‘turned off’ during sleep by some chemical signal sent out by a group of cells located in the hypothalamus, which is considered to be the brain’s brain. This ‘turning off the lights’ assists us in going to sleep.
10:00 PM to 2:00 AM
This is a crucial period of time during which most of the body’s energy is used for cleansing, rebuilding and rejuvenating the body. The liver receives most of the energy and conducts an astonishing range of activities. These include the supply of vital nutrients to all parts of the body, breaking down of noxious substances and keeping the blood clean. In addition, the liver cells produce bile at this time, which is needed to digest food, particularly fats, during the following day. Another important function of the liver during this time is to synthesize proteins, which serve as the main building blocks of cells, hormones and blood constituents.
Why Proper Sleep is So Important for You
The liver requires all the energy it can get to fulfill these and many other responsibilities. This can only happen sufficiently, though, if you sleep during this time period. If you use up the night-time energy for eating or for mental and physical activities, the liver is left with too little energy to do its extremely vital work. The kidneys also need energy during this time period to filter the blood plasma, and keep the body fluids balanced and blood pressure normal.
Although the brain makes up merely 2% of our body mass, it normally contains more than 25% of the body’s entire blood supply. However, during this phase of the night, most of the blood located at the back of the brain moves into the liver for purification. If you are mentally or physically active at this time, the liver does not receive enough blood to work with, so it cannot cleanse the blood sufficiently. This results in the accumulation of toxic material in the blood stream. If toxins keep circulating in the blood, they will settle in the interstitial fluid (connective tissues) of organs and systems, thereby raising acidity and damaging them, including the liver itself. High blood toxicity can lead to secretions of stress hormones, brain fog, and injured capillaries, arteries and heart muscles. Most heart disease is the result of a poorly performing liver that is unable to remove all toxic, noxious substances from the blood on a daily basis. If we do not give the liver the energy it needs to conduct the most basic physiological activities, we sow the seeds of illness throughout the body.
Respiration is an important part of the cleansing and rejuvenation process, with a significant percentage of the body’s waste materials being eliminated through the lungs. This underscores the importance of sleeping in a room with ample ventilation.
Sleep can be divided into two main parts – before midnight and after midnight. For adults, the most important processes of purification and renewal occur during the two hours of sleep before midnight. This period involves deep sleep, often referred to as ‘beauty sleep’. It typically lasts for about an hour, from 11 pm to midnight. During this period, you enter a dreamless state of sleep where oxygen consumption in the body drops considerably. This results in profound physical rest and relaxation. The benefit to your body of this single hour of deep sleep is approximately equivalent to that derived during the three hours following midnight, when the oxygen consumption rises again.
Growth factors, commonly known as growth hormones, are secreted profusely during the hour of deep sleep. These powerful hormones are responsible for cellular growth, repair and rejuvenation. People age faster if they don’t produce enough growth hormones. The latest ‘fashion’ in the beauty market is to consume synthetic growth hormones, which create remarkable rejuvenation results, but which also can have devastating side effects, including heart disease and cancer. On the other hand, if the body makes natural growth hormones at the right time and in the correct amounts, as happens during deep sleep, they can help keep the body vital and youthful.
Deep sleep virtually never occurs after midnight and it usually comes only if you go to sleep at least two hours before midnight. If you routinely miss out on deep sleep, your body and mind tend to become overtired. This triggers abnormal stress responses that initiate secretions of stress hormones such as adrenaline, cortisol or cholesterol (yes, cholesterol is a stress hormone that rises with stress!). Once the body’s energy reserves have been depleted, chronic fatigue results. Fatigue can be considered a major contributing factor in today’s health problems.
Doctors at the University of California at San Diego have found that losing a few hours of sleep not only makes you feel tired during the following day, but also can affect the immune system, possibly impairing the body’s ability to fight infection. Since immunity diminishes with tiredness, your body is unable to defend itself against bacteria, microbes and viruses, and cannot cope with the build-up of harmful substances in the body.
2:00 AM to 6:00 AM
The primary focus of the body during this segment of the daily cycle is on moving the body’s waste products from the liver, cells, intestines and other areas of the body towards the organs and systems of detoxification and elimination. The lymphatic system neutralizes harmful microbes, metabolic wastes, cellular debris, worn out cells and cells damaged by disease. The rectum forms fecal matter, which triggers a bowel movement, and the kidneys pass urine to the bladder, which induces urination. The skin also receives waste products that begin to surface at this time; hence, the importance of washing or showering in the morning.
To be able to fully support efficient waste removal, the body needs to be awake and in a vertical position. Therefore, it is preferable to awaken and be out of bed slightly before sunrise. Young children and early teenagers have a slightly different melatonin cycle, and may require an extra hour of sleep in the evening and again in the morning.
Structuring our daily lives in a way that honors our body’s natural cycles is one of the most important things we can do to enhance our health and well-being. There are inevitably situations that arise in life that necessitate making exceptions to our normal daily cycle. But the more consistently we maintain a regular pattern of living, the better we are able to support our body’s natural processes of health and regeneration.
This is an excerpt from the book SIMPLE STEPS TO TOTAL HEALTH by Andreas Moritz & John Hornecker
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