Why it’s important to start the day early.

When was the last time you saw the sun rise? For most of us, the answer is never. Our pace is set by our gadgets; they decide when we start the day; and this can sometimes stretch to the next day. In fact, a few people even stay up the entire night, at least getting to see the sun rise, in a manner of speaking. All this is normal. What’s become unusual is waking up early and falling asleep at the right time at night.

I hated waking up early during school holidays. My mom usually said, “Has the sun ever failed to rise? You should wake up early like the sun.” I wonder how she knew the significance of waking up with the sun. Maybe she just told me what her mother had told her. Wherever she got from, she was absolutely right. There is a pattern and a unique rhythm in Nature, which depends on the sun. Our biological body has been following this rhythm forever and breaking it causes disturbances.

This does not seem too important at a micro level but, at a macro level, it has humongous implications. Our changing lifestyle increases health complications. Our body, similar to plants and animals, follows a pattern or a timetable called the circadian rhythm, which is any biological process that displays an endogenous clock of 24 hours. ‘Circa’ means around and ‘dian’ means day; so, roughly, the word means going around the day. This rhythm adjusts to the local environment through external clues called ‘zeitgebers’ (the time givers). The most common zeitberger is daylight. Our biological clock affects the daily rhythm of many physiological processes.

Going by the system (see box), it is best to have a balanced and sumptuous breakfast in the morning, as it prevents binging during the day. It is also a good idea to drink water and fresh juice through the mid-morning and have an early lunch when the sun is at its peak. As the sun starts setting, one should reduce the portion of food and have an early dinner.

Though the circadian rhythm tends to synchronise with cycles of light and dark, other factors that can influence it are meal timings, temperature, stress and exercise. So think about how our present lifestyle can affect the rhythm. Today, many of us have our biggest meal at dinner, just when the body needs the least energy and when bowel movements are suppressed. This way, most of the food gets stored as fat.

When we work late at night, with the help of electrical lights, our body’s photoreceptors sense light and slowly suppress metatonin (a hormone secreted to slow down metabolism and to help in sleeping). So not only do we fake light to work, we also fake darkness in the morning to sleep. We alter the natural cycle and disrupt the circadian rhythm, which otherwise follows nature.

If you start waking early with the sun, you can reset the biological clock and rely on your body to do the rest. Studies have also shown that light has a direct effect on health because of the way it influences the circadian rhythm. Disrupting the circadian and biological rhythm has significant and adverse consequences on health like fatigue, disorientation and insomnia. Remember the old saying: make hay while the sun shines. Now go do it.

How it works

For an early riser the system works like this:

6.00 am: wake up

6.30 am: sharpest rise in blood pressure

7.30 am: melatonin stops secretion

8.30 am: bowel movements likely

9.00 am: cortisol secretion

10.00 am: high alertness

Noon: metabolism at its peak

2.30 pm: best coordination

3.30 pm: fastest reaction time

5.00 pm: optimum cardiovascular efficiency and muscle strength

6.30 pm: blood pressure is high

7.00 pm: body temperature is high

9.00 pm: melatonin secretion starts

10.30 pm: bowel movements suppressed

11.00 pm: sleep

2.00 am: deepest sleep

4.30 am: lowest body temperature