The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine was awarded to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their "discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm."
Using fruit flies as a model organism, this year's Nobel laureates isolated a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm. Hall and his peers showed that this gene encodes a protein that accumulates in the cells during the night and then degrades during the day. Subsequently, they identified additional proteins that exposed the mechanism that governs the clockwork inside the cell.
From their groundbreaking research with fruit flies, we now recognize that biological clocks function by the same principles in humans as well.
With exquisite precision, our inner biological clock adapts our physiology to the different phases of the day. This clock regulates critical functions such as behavior, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism. The scientists found that our wellbeing is greatly affected when there is a temporary mismatch between our external environment and this internal biological clock. For example, when we travel across several time zones and experience "jet lag." There are also indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.
Other researchers in the field have also shown that plants, animals and humans have a biological clock that helps prepare their physiology for the fluctuations of the day. This regular adaptation is referred to as the circadian rhythm, originating from the Latin words circa meaning "around" and dies meaning "day." But just how our internal circadian rhythm worked remained a mystery - until now.
Our circadian rhythm is involved in many aspects of our complex physiology. A large proportion of our genes are regulated by this biological clock and, consequently, a carefully calibrated circadian rhythm adapts our physiology perfectly to the different phases of the day. Since the discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a vast and highly dynamic research field, with vast implications for our health and wellbeing.
Since the discoveries by the three laureates, circadian biology has developed into a highly dynamic research field, with vast implications for our health and wellbeing.
Classical Ayurvedic texts contain trustworthy and clinically employable concepts in the Dincharya and Ritucharya chapters. In Ayurveda, a daily ritual of self-care is called Dinacharya. Incorporating changes with changes of season is called Ritucharya.
One important clinical implication related to this discovery is the recognition that "chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.”
Scientists are beginning to understand exactly how important it is for the body to stay in rhythm with nature. Ayurveda pointed out thousands of years ago that staying in unison with natural sleeping, waking and eating times is the mantra to good health.
In our modern world, keeping a relaxed and consistent schedule is a challenge. Many people consider it impossible. Consequently, more and more people are diagnosed with disorders that Ayurveda says arise from not getting enough high-quality, natural sleep.
The original Ayurvedic mystics meticulously observed people and physiology in reaction to their internal and external environment. They then recorded these observations in the Dincharya, a chapter in the ancient Ayurvedic text Charak Samhita. One of the most thorough and important sections of Dincharya covers the science of sleep. The Ayurvedic scientists at the time realized how important sleep is and described the consequences of a lack of good sleep in great detail.
Vagbhatt, an Ayurvedic physician, wrote about sleep in Ashtang Hridyam, another Ayurvedic text. Vagbhatt realized that joy and sorrow, nourishment and emaciation, strength and weakness, sexuality and impotence, knowledge and ignorance, life and death - all are dependent on sleep.
Staying awake late into the night (past 10pm) increases the element of Vata (air) in the body. This means that anxiety, constipation and dryness are just some of the symptoms that appear in the beginning of Vata aggravation. Sleeping during the day increases Kapha (earth and water elements). Too much Kapha creates symptoms such as weight gain, depression and oily skin.
However, according to Ayurveda, taking a nap during the day is beneficial during the summer because Vata is mildly increased in the hot months. So taking a nap will help to increase Kapha during a season that has all of the characteristics of Vata.
Sleeping during the day can also be beneficial for those who are exhausted by excessive speaking, walking, exercise, alcohol or sexual indulgence or extreme emotions. People who have health issues such as asthma, diarrhea, emaciation, physical injuries and dehydration may also benefit from napping during the day. Elderly people and children can also sleep while the sun is up and not face negative consequences.
High-quality nighttime sleep is the “chief nourisher of life. Erratic daytime sleep, on the other hand, can destroy happiness and convert life into a nightmare of disease processes and even death." (Dincharya)
A daily routine of waking, eating and especially sleeping, is a powerful and essential tool for health, vitality and clarity. Modern science is revalidating the ancient knowledge of Ayurveda.
2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine - Press Release.” Nobelprize.org, www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/2017/press.html.
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