Invisible rhythms underlie most of what we assume to be constant in ourselves and the world around us. Life is in continual flux, but the change is not chaotic. The rhythmic nature of earth life is, perhaps, its most usual yet overlooked property. Though we can neither see nor feel them, we are nevertheless surrounded by rhythms of gravity, electromagnetic fields, light waves, air pressure, and sound. Each day, as earth turns on its axis, we experience the alteration of light and darkness. The moon’s revolution, too, pulls our atmosphere into a cycle of change.
Night follows day. Seasons change. The tides ebb and flow. These various rhythms are also seen in animals and man. We, too, change, growing sleepy at night and restlessly active by day. We, too, exhibit the rhythmic undulations of our planet.
You constantly encounter regular, rhythmic changes in numerous environmental factors. These rhythms cycle through peaks and valleys on a daily daylight and darkness, monthly the gravitational pull of the moon on ocean tides, and yearly seasons, electromagnetic
radiation basis. Many normal responses of human organs and systems also are cyclic biological rhythms and may be influenced by cues from the environment, social interactions, and exercise. Further, these rhythms can be disrupted or desynchronized by travel across time zones and sleep loss.
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Because biological rhythms are numerous and are affected by a host of variables, it may never be possible to manipulate them at will. This should not stop you, however, from attempting to understand them more fully and applying that knowledge to enhance your physical and mental performance. Recommendations are provided that will help you deal more effectively with travel across time zones and sleep loss.
The Rhythms of Life
Regular human biological rhythms were first discovered in by the scientist Sanctorius in Europe. Since that time, hundreds of biological rhythms have been identified in animals and plants, ranging from unicellular organisms to complex vertebrates. These rhythms are expressed as oscillations in physiological systems and last from minutes to months. All systems, organs, and tissues of the body exhibit biological rhythms figure Circadian rhythms last approximately typical range: – h, and derive their name from the Latin phrase circa diem, which means around a day, suggesting that they are synchronized with the rotation of the earth.
The following physiological processes and performance factors represent a few of the numerous human circadian rhythms: body temperature, heart rate, breathing rate, oxygen consumption, blood plasma volume, sweat rate, reaction time, neuromuscular coordination, flexibility of major joints, grip strength, muscular endurance, and physical work capacity. Each of these increase and decrease imperceptibly in a rhythmic pattern. Psychological functions such as short-term memory, logical reasoning, mood state, vigor, and alertness also may show circadian oscillations. Figurepresents selected bodily processes that exhibit circadian rhythms in terms of their peak hours of function.
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