Knowing whether or not you’re a morning or night person could have broader implications beyond determining what time of day you operate most efficiently.
In fact, an internal clock that doesn’t reflect the outside world can have serious consequences for your health. Not sure whether you’re an early bird, night owl or something in between?
A simple new blood test could help you better understand your internal clock and provide a broader picture of overall health by revealing risk factors for diseases.
Researchers at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine have developed a new blood test dubbed the TimeSignature test, which offers insight into the time in your body compared to the external world.
The new test requires just two blood draws — a stark difference from similar tests used previously, which required taking blood samples every hour over the span of multiple hours.
The TimeSignature test is also more precise than any other previous measure and can assess a person’s biological clock to within two hours. The test measures 40 different gene expression markers in the blood and can be performed any time of day, regardless of a person’s level of restfulness.
The information gleaned from the TimeSignature test is not only critical to assessing optimal times for sleeping and waking, but could also offer insights into many other health factors, such as disease risk and medication timing.
What is a circadian clock?
Circadian clock refers to the physical, mental and behavior changes that follow a daily pattern. These rhythms affect the release of hormones and sleep-wake cycles. Nearly every tissue and organ system in the body operates on an internal biological clock.
Internal clocks can vary widely among individuals, and can also greatly differ from the external world. For example, the clock on the wall may say 9 a.m., but your body may be operating as if it’s 6 a.m., meaning you may need a later start to your day than someone else whose internal clock might better align with the external world’s time.
Learning more about your internal clock can help reveal optimal time frames for sleeping, eating or exercising as well as provide a picture of overall health.
Internal clocks and health
Understanding your biological clock isn’t only about getting a good night’s rest. A misaligned internal clock can also impact overall health by increasing risk factors for certain health conditions and diseases.
Disruptions in circadian rhythms have been associated with mood disorders such as depression and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, as well as metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes.
Therefore maintaining good circadian health is key to maintaining overall health. This is why the TimeSignature test is groundbreaking, as it allows researchers to easily examine the impact of misaligned circadian clocks on overall health.
Not only does this information help reveal risk factors for certain diseases, but understanding a person’s internal clock can also be useful in treating current conditions by better timing medication and dosages.
For example, when it comes to chemotherapy treatments, the timing of that treatment can make a difference in its effectiveness. Many drugs have optimal times for dosing, and understanding someone’s internal clock is critical to getting the most effective benefits from drug treatments.
The best time for one person to take a blood pressure medication or undergo a radiation treatment may be different from somebody else.
Improving internal clock alignment
To keep your internal clock running smoothly, experts advise establishing healthy sleep habits by going to sleep around the same time every night, and waking up at the same time every morning.
It’s also beneficial to follow light and dark patterns by exposing yourself to outdoor light as early as possible after waking up and limiting exposure to light before bed.
Additionally, avoiding the use of electronic devices before bed can also increase quality sleep and keep your biological rhythm in check, as well as eating and exercising at the same times during the day.
Erin Heger is a freelance writer focusing on topics of health care policy, maternal mental health and parenting. Her work has been featured in The Atlantic, Rewire, Refinery29 and Ravishly. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @erin_heger or at her website erinheger.com.