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Artificial lighting and heating disrupt our natural body clock

Normal activity/sleep rhythms are extremely important for our health. However, they can get disrupted by a variety of factors, for example, as this new study finds, mismatched light and heat levels. This is worrying, because humans do not live according to the rhythms of nature anymore.

Regular bedtime hours, colder bedroom and more light in the morning may help people to wake up on time naturally without an alarm clock. Image credit: Pavel evela via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Regular bedtime hours, colder bedroom and more light in the morning may help people to wake up on time naturally without an alarm clock. Image credit: Pavel Ševela via Wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

Scientists from UCL performed experiments with fruit flies, disturbing natural light and temperature levels. While small variation did not make a significant difference, researchers noticed major disruptions to behaviour and clock-controlled molecular signals. The explanation why that happens is actually quite simple. The body clock is natural and therefore it performs best when it is in sync with natural conditions of the environment. Usually light and heat come together with rising sun, but if we detach one from another, things start getting worse. For example, if there is a sudden temperature spike at midnight, temperature gets ignored by the body clock. But if the difference is smaller, the body clock gets seriously disrupted.

Fruit flies are active throughout the day time, especially before evening. However, when scientists presented them with a six hour lag between light ant temperature, flies were only moderately active in the six-hour window when it was both cold and light. The importance of light has been known for science, but studies neglected taking a look at other possible factors in the equation as well. Professor Joerg T Albert, co-senior author of the study, said: “Artificial exposure to light sources and irregular sleep/wake patterns such as shift work shoulder a lot of the blame for disrupting the body clock, but artificial temperature controls like air conditioning and central heating perhaps also have an influence”.

However, one should not rush transferring these results to people. We regulate our temperature internally, unlike insects. Therefore, further research is needed in order to see how heat in the environment changes function of the body clock of humans. However, scientists already have some advices for people, who want a healthy body clock rhythm. First of all, have your bedroom a little colder than the rest of the house. Try getting as much light in the morning as possible. Keeping regular bedtime hours as well as avoiding coffee, energy drinks and alcohol is also a good idea. The ultimate goal is to wake up naturally on time without setting an alarm clock.

Healthy body clock – healthy lifestyle. People would be more productive if they stuck to natural rhythms. It also helps preventing such problems, as certain psychiatric and cognitive disorders.

Source: UCL