What Are The Health Risks Of Working Against Your Body Clock?

Packed lives and a pursuit of happiness, wealth, security, and bigger things drive millions of people to work harder and longer every day. While going the extra mile at work is applauded, this often comes at the cost of sleep and downtime. And surprising though it may seem, if you party hard and late into the night constantly, you run the same risks. Students burning the midnight oil and losing sleep over project deadlines too may have similar issues. Even someone busily managing their home or working through their finances night after night won’t be spared.

Pushing the body too hard or too far may have some damaging consequences if you don’t take care. So what’s the price you pay for defying your body clock? Here’s some food for thought.

Biological Clock: The Alternative View

According to Ayurveda, lifestyle plays a key role in maintaining good health, and adequate sleep at the right time is central to all of this. When you sleep the body generates ojas from the digestion of your food. This energy of ojas is what supports body and

somatic functions. It helps heal your body and keeps the immune system strong. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, sleep is what keeps that all-important balance between yin(ying qi) and yang(wei qi). A loss of this balance causes shen to leave its home in the heart, resulting in sleep disorders and other problems.1

Damaging Your Body Clock

When you work against the body clock on a regular basis, the body develops other problems, not unlike those a shift worker staying up nights experiences. That’s because your circadian clock doesn’t just signal when to sleep and wake up, it also helps regulate normal physiological and psychological function. Acting like a timer, it sends a message to the glands in the body to release the right hormones at the right time. It also impacts your alertness, mood, and even body temperature. Bodily functions like urinary excretion, respiratory rate, and cell division are influenced by the circadian rhythm.

Circadian misalignment can occur when you ignore that signal from your brain to unwind and relax after dark

and become alert in the morning. As the American Psychological Association warns, no amount of sleep in the world can compensate for a messed-up circadian rhythm. So even if you feel you are sleeping the seven hours you need, it doesn’t count if you are sleeping later and waking up later. Busy executives often schedule meetings late into the night, taking key decisions in a less than optimal frame of mind. For jobs that involve life and death decisions or split-second calls, ignoring the body clock can cost lives or result in poor decisions that snowball into big financial losses.2

Increased Risk Of Strokes

When you keep odd hours and lose sleep regularly, you may even be exposing yourself to serious problems like a stroke. The autonomous nervous system has an important role in regulating your cardiovascular system. Which is why diastolic blood pressure has a tendency to rise when you work against nature and run on less sleep.3

Men are more prone to strokes arising from disruptive schedules than women. Researchers studying the link between ischemic stroke risk and circadian rhythm disruption believe this might be due to the protective effects of female reproductive hormone estrogen.4

Increased Risk Of Cancer

While further study is warranted, there have been some indications that night and shift workers have a higher prevalence of cancers of the colon and breast than those working regular hours. When you work into the night, fighting off sleep and letting your circadian clock go haywire, you may run this risk too.5

Metabolic Syndrome

Working at night can cause the body to feel increasingly fatigued, but worse still, it could bring on signs of metabolic syndrome. High cholesterol and triglyceride levels, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels (when not eating) are typical signs of your body reacting to the strain on your body clock. One study found that police officers in Buffalo, New York, who worked the night shift had a much higher incidence of symptoms of metabolic syndrome.6

Risks Of Losing Sleep

If you have also cut down on the number of hours you sleep, in addition to the irregular hours you keep, then things go downhill fast.

Impaired brain function, a dip in alertness levels, and issues with cognitive performance may actually jeopardize the decisions you make and how well you react to a crisis.7 A weakened immune profile makes you more likely to fall ill with bacterial or viral infections. If you try and beat the body clock incessantly with sustained sleep loss, it could even hamper your ability to fight tumors in the long run.8

Stress and anxiety increase when you don’t get much sleep. Besides work-related pressure taking a mental and emotional toll, your body physically reacts to inadequate sleep by producing more cortisol. This stress-inducing hormone results in anxiety and stress.9 Remember, the more sleep you

lose, the worse the effects of sleep deprivation can be.