The ‘natural’ daily rhythm of our bodies is said to be close to 25 hours. But since our lives require a daily routine that corresponds to the clock and not our bodies, we are thus slightly out of sync with the rotation of the Earth, with each passing day increasing the disparity, resulting in things like sleeping extra on our days off from work or school in an effort to make up for it.
I am someone who likes to have a routine, to do things roughly at the same time each day. I like to get up each day knowing what I will be doing that day and when, down to what I will wear and what I will eat at each meal. It helps that I buy multiple shirts and trousers in a style that I like and wear very similar clothes each day so that I do not have to bother with making decisions about what to wear, so much so that my daughter once said that my students must think that I have very few clothes. Although this sounds obsessive when I write it down, what it does is actually free me from thinking about all those things because I am doing them more or less automatically. Doing pretty much the same thing each day frees me from having to make a whole host of minor decisions.
When I was working, a certain routine was necessarily imposed on me by the work environment. There was a set time to get up at 7:00, get dressed, leave for work at around 8:00, have lunch around noon, get back in the evening at around 6:30, eat dinner soon after, and then go to bed at around 10:30. I fell into such a routine that when I retired, I pretty much kept the same routine initially, except that I got up at 8:00 and, after the same light breakfast as before, went to my study at 8:30 to begin writing. I would stop for lunch at about noon.
The catch was that I found it hard to get back into the rhythm of writing after lunch and felt dissatisfied with the limited number of hours available in the morning and the consequent lower writing output. So I decided to keep writing until I got tired or hungry. I found that I could go on until around 3:00pm so I started having a full meal for lunch only then. But since lunch was so late and so filling, I did not feel the necessity for an evening meal, and ended up just eating a slice of toast or some fruit at around 10:00pm, before going to sleep at around 11:30 or later.
This new routine is working very well for me and seems to correspond to my ‘natural’ rhythm of daily life, if such a thing should exist.
One thing I have noticed is that I sleep more hours at night now than before, at least eight and usually closer to nine. This seems to go against studies that suggest that we sleep less as we age.
It’s a known fact that as we age, we sleep less. But the reasoning behind this phenomenon is poorly understood. Do older adults sleep less because they need less sleep, or because they simply can’t get the sleep they need?
In a review out today in the journal Neuron, a group of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley argue the latter—that because of certain brain mechanisms that change as we age, we are unable to get a necessary amount of sleep. Researchers say this knowledge not only gives them a platform to develop medication to target this problem, but also a means to implement therapies already available that can treat these issues.
I also read studies that suggest that the microbes in out gut have a daily routine too and that modern life that produced electricity that shifted people’s daily rhythm away from a sunlight-based one may be harmful.
New research is beginning to show that the composition and activity of the microbiota exhibits a daily, or circadian, rhythmicity, just like we do. This offers one pathway to explain a Pandora’s box of possible adverse health effects from aspects of modern life, such as eating late at night or too much electric light after sunset.
The crucial question is whether the microbes simply respond to their host human’s circadian rhythm or whether they can actually alter our rhythm somehow. And does this really matter anyway?
A root cause of these human health issues we see on the macro scale may be our gut microbiota and whether or not it is happy.
So are my own gut microbes pleased with my new daily rhythm or are they ticked off and plotting revenge somewhere deep inside me? Who knows? But I am ignoring those studies since with this new routine, I do not find it hard to fall asleep and feel rested when I get up, counter to what the conventional wisdom says. This new pattern seems to work well for me and I am going to stick to it.
And for the weakest of segues, here is Sammy Davis Jr. singing the big production number The Rhythm of Life from the 1969 film Sweet Charity. It gives a glimpse of the clothes, language, and lifestyle of the hippie culture of the time. I particularly like the line where Davis, playing a character named Big Daddy, sings about his ‘calling’ to start a new religion:
And the voice said, “Daddy, there’s a million pigeons
Ready to be hooked on new religions.
Hit the road, Daddy, leave your common-law wife.
Spread the religion of the rhythm of life.”
That holds true today too as can be seen by the proliferation of cult-like religious leaders able to find new pigeons to fleece.