God designed our bodies to move with the rhythms of night and day
Written by J.M. Bergman
God designed our bodies with an internal clock that manages our levels of alertness and rest. If we don’t respect the biology of our bodies we often set ourselves on a constant cycle of feeling like we can’t catch up on the rest we need.
Our bodies are designed to see and respond to the sun’s light, and to rest with the dark canopy of stars at night. God created the nerves directly behind our eyes to signal our brains whenever they receive light or when light disappears.
As our bodies process rays of blue light given by our sun, adrenal glands in our brain release cortisol hormones into our blood to stimulate elevated wakefulness and energy, and because the blue light given by our sun has the shortest wavelength of light in our world it carries the largest amount of energy accessible on earth.
This process includes maintaining glucose (sugars), increasing our heart rates and blood pressure, and finally breaking down proteins and then turning them into fuel for our bodies. All of this is meant to take place naturally every morning before even one cup of coffee!
On the opposite end of the spectrum, at the end of each day as blue light (sunlight) diminishes, the pineal glands in our brains respond by releasing melatonin, which is responsible for relaxation and slowing our bodies down.
Have you ever noticed yourself becoming sleepy once the sky gets dark? This is also part of God’s design for us. When we are in our relaxed state melatonin works to repair cells and controls the production of sex hormones. Needless to say, it is very important. The scientific term for the release of cortisol and melatonin hormones is called the circadian rhythm.
So why do many people today struggle with getting enough restful sleep and also struggle with having low energy in the mornings? Based on God’s design, this is because of interruptions to our internal clocks
For example, imagine what may happen if you were to give yourself a boost of energy right before you tried to fall asleep—it would make sense that falling asleep might be hard. A big problem in our world today is that most, if not all, of us do this to ourselves every day!
Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, that “every time we turn on a light after dark our brains are fooled into thinking we need energy to face a new day, and as cortisol begins to pump into our blood, it competes with melatonin, which throws our body’s healing and repair cycle out of balance.”
And while the blue light emitted by our phones and tablets is not as powerful as sunlight, it still affects our bodies. Brown Taylor writes that depriving the body of quality sleep lends itself to elevated blood pressure and blood glucose levels, depressed immune systems, heightened appetite, memory loss, and increased risk of ulcers and heart disease.
Consider how many times you watch movies in the evening, read late into the night with the glow of your lamp, work a night shift under fluorescent lights, or send one last text before closing your eyes in bed. All light after dark interrupts our hormonal cycle.
So how can we help our bodies flow in their natural, God-given cycle? Consider purchasing blue-light-blocking glasses and limiting screen time before bed. If you must use your phone or computer before bed, there are apps designed to help reduce blue light, or you can try turning your digital device to night mode.
In the morning, pull your curtains wide open while you enjoy your breakfast and get outside during the day as much as you can. Winters in Canada make this hard because of our shortened hours of daylight. You could consider purchasing a lamp designed specifically to mimic some of the sun’s benefits.
While none of these options is a perfect fix, over the longer term, rhythms of slowing down and adjusting our habits to more closely align with God’s patterns of darkness and light can help us feel more energised and rested.
Greeting and resting with the sun are both part of this good design. Our bodies have been created to richly benefit from (safe) exposure to the sun and our environment, and the act of simply looking up and soaking in the sky above or, depending on where you live, the towering mountains or skyscrapers, stimulates rest and even creativity.
I wonder how our 24/7 North American culture would shift if we focused on following our internal clocks, trusting that God gave them to us for our good. He created our bodies as temples and entrusted us to respect and care for them.
J.M. Bergman is an author and poet living in Morden, Man. Read more from the “Body and soul” column.