Time to heal? Consult your body clock.

What is your clock telling you? Time for lunch, time for that next appointment, or maybe it is something far more profound which could affect your entire wellbeing. Perhaps the answer depends on which clock you have tuned into. The clock on the wall may be telling you one thing, your body clock quite another.

The concept of the body clock isn’t a new one.  Anyone who has travelled abroad knows all too well the effect which multiple time changes can have on their system.  And even if you are more of a staycationer then you may still be all too aware of the impact of twice yearly UK clock changes on eating and sleeping patterns.

However, it seems as though the clash between imposed time and personal body clocks may only be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our personal time zones. Indeed, the more that scientists study the body clock, more they are learning about the interaction between time and well-being. In this last month alone two important studies have illustrated the way in which well-being is influenced by our body clocks.

In the first study led by Professor David Montaigne of the University of Lille, researchers highlighted the way in which our body clocks influence our chances of recovering from heart attacks and heart surgery. Identifying some 300 genes which link the body clock to heart well-being, the study found that ongoing heart damage was more prevalent in those had undergone heart surgery in the morning than in the afternoon. So much so, that those who had surgery in the afternoon had a 50% lower chance of cardiac event than those scheduled for morning surgery.

The implications are profound and could lead to complete rethink of the way in which surgery times are scheduled not just for hearts but in respect of a range of conditions. The second study reinforced the importance of considering the body clock, and indeed the clock on the wall, when it comes to understanding recovery times.

The study reported by the Medical Research Council revealed that wounds received during the day healed 60% faster than those at night.  This apparently is down to ‘actin’, an essential protein which governs the ability of skin cells to migrate into wounds and to start the healing process. Actin is itself governed by the circadian clock, being more active in the day than in the night and therefore more able to in initiate the healing process by day.  Interestingly the study also revealed that in nocturnal mice the process is reversed.

Other studies in the past have cast light on the way in which our body clocks influence mood, concentration and our ability to carry out day-to-day tasks. Whether you are a morning or evening person could profoundly influence the way in which you approach your daily round; with tasks allocated in accordance with your circadian rhythms improving outcomes in areas such as productivity, accuracy and so on.

The more we understand our body clocks, the more we can optimise treatments and increase chances of recovery. Given their individual body clock, should a patient see a physiotherapist in the morning or afternoon, at what time of day would it be best for the individual to exercise in order to promote fitness or healing, and when is the best time to tackle that mountain of paperwork? We may not have all the answers yet, but as more and more studies report their findings it may not be too long before circadian rhythms are seen as an intrinsic part of managing well-being.