Wake Up!

Have you ever wished you could wake up early and accomplish more in the day? Is it really possible for a night owl to become an early bird? Can one's body clock actually be changed, or is it born behavior?

According to experts, resetting your body clock, or circadian rhythm, is not that difficult. Just like adjusting to jet lag when traveling to different time zones, resetting your body clock requires little effort and a whole lot of consistency.

How does it work?

God has created our bodies with a set biological rhythm, or system, that is automatically programmed to complete tasks by day and to achieve sleep by night. However, when tasks are completed late at night or early in the morning without enough sleep, our biological rhythm is upset.

Our biological clock, based on a 24-hour period, is called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). It is located in the hypothalamus, which is just above the point where the optic nerves cross in the brain. This clock responds to light signals from the optic nerve and drives bodily rhythms such as changes in body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, concentrations of melatonin, urine production, acid secretion in the gastrointestinal tract, and changes in liver metabolism. All these functions are performed during the day/night 24-hour period.

However, when the eyes experience light during the night, the SCN cycle in the brain is thrown off, causing drowsiness and mental, emotional, digestive, coordination, and heart problems. Thus, the body's daily routines are disturbed and confused.

Our bodies are so delicately regulated by their biological rhythm that when the clocks are set forward an hour for daylight saving time in the spring, studies show that accidents go up. Sleep deprivation is considered the most likely cause of a 17-percent increase in accidents on the Monday following the time change. Studies also found no significant reduction in accidents in the fall when clocks are set back an hour.

So how can you reset your body clock to get up early? Here are some simple tips:

1. Set your alarm for a fixed time (say 5:00 a.m.) every day. When your alarm goes off, get out of bed. (If you need to, set an alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.) Stick with this wake-up time seven days a week. (Sorry, this is where consistency comes in!) Avoid the tendency to sleep in on weekends. Consistency in getting to bed and waking up is important to training your body to get up at a particular time on a regular basis.

2. Turn on a bright light. Light is the most powerful natural tool for regulating the sleep-wake cycle. The pineal gland, that part of the brain that influences circadian rhythms, responds to darkness and light transmitted by the optic nerve. Because of the effect light has on the eyes, avoid looking directly at it if you have to get up in the night.

3. Be active and productive. Now that you're up, use the extra time to do something productive, such as study your Bible, exercise, or plan out your day. It's also a great time to go to the grocery store! You'll feel good about getting so much accomplished, which might help you get up early the following day.

4. Eat healthy and on time. Your digestive system operates on a cycle just like your hormones, blood pressure, body temperature, etc. So eat meals at scheduled times, when your digestive fluids are their strongest. Eat whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables, and avoid snacking between meals so that you give your stomach a rest. Avoid heavy meals before bedtime.

5. Lower the lights and begin to slow down. One hour before bedtime, turn off bright lights, the TV, the computer, and the cell phone, and allow your body to slow down and relax. Studies show that talking on the phone or watching TV can cause the body to release a hormone that has the same effect on the body as when it is stressed.

6. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine drinks. Stimulants have an alerting effect on the body and will work against what you are trying to achieve. Nicotine and alcohol can rob the body of REM, the deeper restorative stages of sleep. Make water your beverage of choice throughout the day.

7. Go to bed early. Go to bed at least 90 minutes before midnight (the time for getting your best sleep). Get at least seven to eight hours of sound sleep before your scheduled wake-up time. Resist the urge to take a nap during the day. Eventually your body clock will respond to this schedule. "If you still can't fall asleep," says Don Miller, a doctor of naturopathy and expert on circadian rhythms,"?go to the Shepherd, rather than counting sheep." Use the quiet time in bed to count your blessings, talk to God, or review Scripture.

* Bible texts credited to RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright (C) 1946, 1952, 1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.

Jackie Ordelheide Smith writes from Columbia, Maryland, where she collapses into bed each night after caring for her twin 5-year-old boys and her husband, Bobby.

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