Regular daily schedule and habits
Keeping to a regular daily schedule
Healthy and long-lived people have regular daily habits. They go to sleep at about the same time every night, and wake at the same time every morning. They eat their meals at the same time every day. Their activities and exercise fit into a regular daily schedule, weekends included.
Keeping to a regular schedule has both physical and mental benefits. Your body thrives on homeostasis - maintaining internal stability after some outside upset has caused an imbalance. Your environment is changing all the time, yet your body constantly adjusts itself to create the steady internal state that it needs for health and long life. Missing a meal or getting an unexpected sugar hit affects this healthy state of homeostasis.
Growth hormones, digestive hormones, sex hormones, cortisol, insulin, blood glucose, feel-good hormones - they all have regular cycles throughout the day. They have a powerful effect on the best time of day for physical activities, thinking and creativity, sex and sports performance. (16, 18)
Most of us know what it's like to lose a few nights sleep over a worry or while traveling. In this situation we may feel tired and lacking in both physical and mental energy. Think back to the last time you were sick enough to have to spend part of the day in bed. When you are ill, you are less regular than when you are healthy. Your sleeping, eating, diet, exercise and activity can be thrown off balance at just the time when your body might benefit from the stability of the regular schedule it needs.
Numerous studies show that those who are grieving following the loss of a loved one are themselves at a higher risk of dying. Their emotional state upsets their hormones and other body processes. But the regularity of their previous daily schedule is also turned upside down. They no longer keep to the same old schedules as they figure out new routines for eating, sleeping, socialising and living without their loved one.
We all have an internal biological clock called a circadian rhythm. It is defined by regular patterns of activity every 24 hours. Patterns include our sleep and wake cycle, the ebb and flow of various hormones, the rise and fall of body temperature, blood pressure, and virtually every other body process. When the circadian rhythm gets disrupted, we feel weak, tired, cranky or off-kilter. (15, 17)
Sleep may be the most important 24 hour pattern. It governs our eating behaviours and directly affects our major hormones. Several studies show that the regularity of your sleep is more important than the number of hours of sleep that you get. Long-lived people tend to wake and get up, and go to bed at the same time every day, weekends included.
Shift workers who regularly work different hours, those who work at night, and people frequently flying long-distance routes across time zones have a substantially increased risk of breast and prostate cancer, and suffer higher rates of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, weight gain, mood and other psychological factors. (6, 7, 9, 10) Female shift workers find it harder to get pregnant, and have more disruption to their pregnancies. (8)
Exposure to sunlight and other bright lights strongly affects your circadian rhythm. Bright light in the eyes immediately starts to reduce the level of melatonin in the body. Bright sunlight in the morning resets the wake cycle and body clock, making you feel awake during the day, and sleepy at night. This will help you get a regular, reliable pattern of wakefulness and rejuvenating sleep.
Ghrelin and leptin are another two hormones governed by sleep. These are the "hungry" and "satiated" hormones. Ghrelin is secreted by the stomach when it is empty, and increases your appetite. Leptin is produced by fat cells when you are full, to tell your brain that you need to stop eating. Recent research (11,12) shows that insomnia, a bad night's sleep, or just not getting enough sleep, upsets these two hormones. For most people, two nights with only 4 hours sleep can result in a hunger increase of nearly 25%, driving them towards sweet calorie-rich high-carbohydrate foods. Basically, insufficient sleep is a cause of obesity.
People who grab a snack whenever they feel hungry are doing themselves a disservice. It is not the snack that is the problem, it is the randomness. If you need a snack, having it every day at 3:00pm is a better approach.
Habits from childhood
Early learning and brain development benefit from a regular schedule for young children. Two surveys (1, 2) showed that younger children who adhere to bedtime rules achieved 6-7% higher scores on language and math skills. Other studies (13,14) on teenagers and college students have confirmed the benefits of regular and restful sleep on their performance and test scores. Several other studies showed that children and teenagers who don't sleep well are significantly more likely to have suicidal thoughts and anxiety disorders. (3)
Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses. 29% of all people will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder during their lifetime, and 21% with a mood disorder. (3) These problems emerge early in life, with a median onset-age of eleven. Hence the crucial importance for kids as well as adults to have a consistent daily bed time and wake time, including on weekends. The tips for sleeping to children as well as adults. Try to avoid sending a child to bed as a punishment, or allowing them to stay up late as a reward - this teaches exactly the wrong approach to sleeping.
We need regular downtime during our waking hours as well as sleep at night. The modern lifestyle with smart phones and computers and always being in contact or being productive, mean that fewer people take the time to sit and reflect or gaze out the window.
There is increasing evidence (4,5) that constant smart phone / TV / computer input inhibits the ability to learn, remember, and come up with new and creative ideas. It seems that constant stimulation prevents the brain from organising and consolidating its experiences, as it needs seconds and minutes of "time out" during the day to do this. Advertisers and mobile software want you to watch a video or check email while standing in line at the bank, but you may be over-stimulating your brain.
Test subjects were able to learn better after a walk in nature, rather than a walk in a stimulating dense urban environment. (5) Taking time out to go for a walk in a nature setting is highly beneficial for depression. (4)
A new study (19) shows that after four days of immersion in nature, the test subjects increased their performance on a creativity and problem-solving task by a full 50%. This shows how the assault from multi-media and technology can overload our brains.
Having a regular daily schedule need not be monotonous or boring. Your body will respond positively, giving you more energy, mental clarity, and wellbeing. (13,14,) Remember that Olympic and professional athletes get to the top of their sport with strict daily schedules. (16, 18)
1. Lauren Hale, Lawrence M. Berger, Monique K. LeBourgeois, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn.
Social and Demographic Predictors of Preschoolers' Bedtime Routines.
J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2009 October; 30(5): 394-402.
2. Erika Gaylor et al. SLEEP 2010. Article
3. Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O, Jin R, Merikangas KR, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;62(6):593-602.
4. Marc G. Berman et al. Interacting with nature improves cognition and affect for individuals with depression. Journal of Affective Disorders, 2012.
5. Berman, M.G., Jonides, J., Kaplan, S. The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature. 2008. Psychological Science 19(12):1207-1212
6. Johnni Hansen, Stephanie Bernik, Richard G. Stevens. Night Shift Might Boost Women's Breast Cancer Risk. May 28, 2012, Occupational and Environmental Medicine, online
7. Hansen, Johnni. Increased Breast Cancer Risk among Women Who Work Predominantly at Night. Epidemiology: January 2001 - Volume 12 - Issue 1, 74-77.
8. Keith C. Summa, Martha Hotz Vitaterna, Fred W. Turek. Environmental Perturbation of the Circadian Clock Disrupts Pregnancy in the Mouse. 23 May 2012. PLoS ONE 7(5): e37668. Article
9. Copinschi G. Metabolic and endocrine effects of sleep deprivation. Essential Psychopharmacology 6, no. 6, 2005. 341-47.
10. Manber R., Bootzin R. R., Acebo C.,Carskadon M. A. The effects of regularizing sleep-wake schedules on daytime sleepiness. Sleep 19, no. 5. June 1996. 432-41.
11. Spiegel K., et al. Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism 89, no. 11. November 2004. 5762-71.
12. Taheri S., Lin L., Austin D., Young T., Mignot E. Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index. PLoS Medicine 1, no. 3. December 2004.
13. Carney, C.E., J.D. Edinger, B. Meyer, L. Lindman, T. Istre. Daily activities and sleep quality in college students. Chronobiology International 23, no. 3: 623-37.
14. Manber, R., R.R. Bootzin, C. Acebo, M.A. Carskadon. The effects of regularizing sleep-wake schedules on daytime sleepiness. Sleep 19, no. 5 (June 1996): 432-41.
15. Marti, O., and A. Armario. Influence of regularity of exposure to chronic stress on the pattern of habituation of pituitary-adrenal hormones, prolactin and glucose. Stress 1, no. 3 (May 1997): 179-89.
16. Jehue, R., D. Street, and R. Huizenga. Effect of time zone and game time changes on team performance: National Football League. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 25, no. 1 (January 1993): 127-31.
17. Marti, O., and A. Armario. Influence of regularity of exposure to chronic stress on the pattern of habituation of pituitary-adrenal hormones, prolactin and glucose. Stress 1, no. 3 (May 1997): 179-89.
18. Sedliak, M., T. Finni, S. Cheng, W.J. Kraemer, and K. Hakkinen. Effect of time-of-day-specific strength training on serum hormone concentrations and isometric strength in men. Chronobiology International 24, no. 6 (2007): 1159-77.
19. Ruth Ann Atchley, David L. Strayer, Paul Atchley. Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings. 12 December 2012, PLoS ONE 7(12): e51474. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051474. Article