Imagine driving your car and suddenly all the gauges on your dashboard go blank. You could get by for a little while, yes. You might remember how much gas your car had and could keep track of the miles you’ve driven since to get an idea when your tank is close to empty. You likely have a certain feel for how fast you’re driving and may not need the speedometer at all times. It’ll be a while before you need oil or before anything goes wrong that the old “check engine” light would have alerted you too, but at some point it would be helpful to get a status update on how your car is performing.
This is essentially what it’s like for you body to be disconnected from its natural environment. In other words, it is locked off from the natural circadian signals of the earth. This would be that day you felt like chilling at home and binging on Netflix downstairs in the basement, no natural lighting, no great feel for what time it is outside, cut off from nature. Eventually you at least need a peak at the sun to reset your internal clock.
Now imagine, back in your car, that your gauges return. Unbeknownst to you, however, they are showing inaccurate readings. Say you’re moving 70 mph but your dashboard says 55, your gas shows three-fourths of a tank when you’re actually close to empty, and your engine temperature shows normal despite the fact that you’re on the verge of overheating. Can you imagine the chaos that is about to ensue? This is what it’s like to be disconnected from your environment while simultaneously introducing erroneous signals, things like fake light (overhead lights, TVs, phones, computers), non-native EMF (Wi-Fi signals, cellular signals, etc.), and temperature controls (AC in the summer and heat in the winter).
Your mitochondria sense all these signals from your environment, below your consciousness, to keep your cells functioning properly. They take information and energy to make order out of chaos. The word used in physics to describe chaos is entropy, the natural tendency of the universe to move from order to disorder. Life is able to use energy to swim upstream against the current of entropy for a while, in our human case for an average of about eighty years or so, but it also relies on the informational signals (circadian signals) from the environment to do that well. When those signals are missing – or worse yet, erroneous – this interrupts our ability to dissipate entropy, and our bodies become dysfunctional sooner and possibly die earlier that we otherwise would.
The current circadian mismatches we have created in our world tend to be oriented in the direction of overstimulation. Fake blue light is possibly the most widespread issue we face since most electronic screens are almost entirely made up of blue light frequencies. In nature blue light is most prevalent in morning hours during the summertime. Even then, however, the proportion of blue light within the full spectrum of sunlight color is nowhere near as high as the proportion found in our technology devices. That means each time we look at our phones, TVs, and computers, our mitochondria are led to believe that not only is it about noon in the middle of July, but that we must have also recently moved closer to the equator on a new planet that is near a sun with more high frequency blue light than the one we used to live by. Blue light as part of the natural sun spectrum naturally causes cortisol spikes and drops in melatonin in order for us to be awake and alert (as described in the last blog). Such a high concentration as found in our tech devices, however, causes this process to be exaggerated from what even natural daytime sunlight could accomplish, and when it happens at night, our circadian rhythms get extremely distorted.
Our indoor temperature controls are another great example. While probably less impactful than our blue light situation, and arguably life-saving when we have frigid winter temperatures outside, having a stagnant 70-degree temperature at all times during the year creates a mismatch as well, especially at night when you would typically expect the temperatures to drop. Higher temperatures are signals of daytime and summertime and can also distort melatonin and sleep cycles as well as metabolic cycles of the seasons.
Colder isn’t necessarily always better, but temperature is a signal that matters; here’s an interesting article that even discusses the merits of a certain temperature for the room and your exposed head and a different temperature (higher) for your skin (which is accomplished by our use of blankets). An environmental temperature that does drop to some extent from day to night, however, gives a clear indication of preparing for sleep.
Likewise, getting cold exposure when it is actually cold outside in the winter helps us maintain our seasonal circadian rhythms. Summer is the season mammals naturally fatten up for winter to have enough energy stores to make it through colder temperatures and a reduced food supply. The high-energy blue light portion of sun grows carbohydrate food sources for us to eat in the summer in order to fatten us up in preparation for winter. When we continue to eat carbohydrates and live in warm temperatures indoors all day during the winter, however, we are missing out on the leaning cycle and instead perpetuating eternal summer.
During winter we need the cold to increase calorie burn and adjust our metabolism to fat mobilization (have a read) because that was the logic behind our bodies storing the fat to begin with. Before our modern world, the winter reduced the food supply as plants went dormant, so we needed fat storage to make it through a long period of less food availability. Also, it naturally requires more energy to maintain body temperatures when your environment around you is cold, even more reason to carry around all that fat. If you never see winter, though, despite living in a geographical area that provides winter, you can wind up in a perpetual fat storing mode and have a difficult time losing weight no matter how much you exercise. If you check the research (must read), I think you’d be shocked to what extent cold actually increases caloric burn and fat loss.
Another category of circadian rhythm disruptors includes non-native electromagnetic frequency (EMF) signals, those from Wi-Fi, cellular, radio, etc. These signals create issues by drowning out the native signals of our environment that our mitochondria need to tune in to, our earth’s pulsing magnetic field (the Schumann Resonance) being the most important. They can also distort the natural frequencies that our body itself uses to communicate from within. The mechanism by which they interfere is similar to how a lightning storm messes up your DISH signal during an episode of The Voice or how it can be impossible to make a phone call in a crowded stadium with too many other phone signals interfering. Read this if you’re more curious and have the time.
When it comes to keeping your body functioning well at all levels, the more you can stay in touch with your environment and avoid man-made circadian disruptors the better. To remain in a strong state of health, your body requires lots of energy to dissipate entropy and establish order. It also needs accurate environmental signals to navigate the cellular functions it performs with that energy. If your mitochondrial dashboard is sending you all sorts of erroneous data, you may not finish your trip (shorter lifespan) and likely will encounter unfriendly detours (chronic disease) along the way.