Circadian Rhythms, Chinese Medicine, and Smart Phones

Posted by on Aug 19, 2015

The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic /Huangdi neijing, written in the 3rd millennium BCE, is one of the two foundational texts of Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture, and the first to discuss what are now known as circadian rhythms. It contains much of the essential Chinese Medical theory that all later texts reference, and that forms the essential mind-set of classical Chinese Medical practice. One of the most basic notions of the Nei Jing is something found in most traditional cultures, even in the South of France, to this day; namely, that as the seasons change, so to should our lifestyles and diets.

When it comes to seasonal changes in lifestyle (as opposed to diet) the advice of the Nei Jing is very specific. In Summer, the season in which I write this now, we can afford to stay up a bit late; think the bonfires of Midsummer Night’s Eve in Northern Europe. Well of course, in Paris the sun does not set until nearly 10. London even later, so that makes sense. And in the summer we are to get up early, because our energy is full, and also, its warm out.

Whereas in Winter we are to go to bed early and sleep late, the exact opposite, another words, in winter we are as close to hibernating as possible, we conserve thermal energy by doing less and sleeping more.

But what is very consistent is that at nighttime we ARE supposed to sleep. Now here comes this article in Scientific American about how “Digital devices and 24/7 lifestyles are messing with our body’s natural cicadian rhythms, threatening our health. What does it take to keep our inner clock ticking?”

And here is another excellent article that describes the pernicious effects of one aspect of the smart phone addiction that permeates most societies, checking at night before bed. It also addresses the light pollution from televisions and other devices.

“Lately, however, scientists have been cautioning against using light-emitting devices before bed. Why? The light from our devices is “short-wavelength-enriched,” meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light—and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.

Changes in sleep patterns can in turn shift the body’s natural clock, known as its circadian rhythm. Recent studies have shown that shifts in this clock can have devastating health effects because it controls not only our wakefulness but also individual clocks that dictate function in the body’s organs. In other words, stressors that affect our circadian clocks, such as blue-light exposure, can have much more serious consequences than originally thought.”

All of which makes total sense to the Yellow Emperor and to anyone who practices classical Chinese Medicine or Ayurveda and pays attention to circadian rhythms and how they are disrupted by light and electromagnetic pollution. You just cant cure with a pill what you create with a lifestyle. There are no shortcuts to a healthy diet and lifestyle, not frozen vegan pizza from Trader Joes, and not cell phone apps that damage melatonin production just when you need it most.

Healthy lifestyles are work, and they demand going against the societal grain. But, if you value your health, its worth it.

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