How do cosmic mechanics dictate the cycling of seasons, day and night, as well as our internal biorhythms?
A biorhythm is a kind of inner clock of the human body, affecting people’s physical and mental well-being. If you disrupt your biorhythm, for instance by travelling to a country in a different time zone or by not going to bed until 2am after a party, you will feel sleepy and tired the following day. It takes several days or even weeks before an organism gets used to a different routine.
Circadian rhythm is one of the most important biorhythms. It is a mechanism of processes synchronised with the rotation of our planet, lasting between 20 and 28 hours. A typical example of a circadian rhythm is the sleep / wakefulness cycle, but it is also our temperature, the release of certain hormones and range of other phenomena which we have yet to discover.
Measuring your activity during the day and night using actigraphy is by far the easiest method to measure your circadian biorhythm.
Measuring temperature in mouth, vagina or rectum, immediately after waking up and before any physical activity, is another way to measure circadian rhythm.
Also known as the sleep hormone, it regulates people’s daily and seasonal biorhythms. Regularly extracting Melatonin is another way to measure circadian rhythm.
Current times are technologically advanced but also very hurried. We often tend to have bad habits and make unhealthy lifestyle choices (diet, artificial prolongation of daytime, bad lighting, a lack of exercise and too much time spent in front of a computer). All this increases the occurrence of various diseases. Long-term disruption of our cycles leads to sleep disorders, nervousness and concentration problems. Abnormal daily rhythms have also been linked to obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder.
Our current research in this field now primarily focuses on psychiatry, in particular mood disorders and psychoses. However, we are also testing application in areas such as sleep medicine, neurology and lung medicine.
So how does it all work? Deep inside the brain, directly above the point where optical nerves cross, is located a special population of nerve cells, which form what is known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Neurons themselves are cyclically active. This activity, however, is inaccurate and must be continuously synchronized. The hands of our circadian clock are adjusted by daylight. As well as the rods and cones, the retina contains other light-sensitive cells. These are sensitive to blue light, which is abundant particularly in the morning. They are directly linked to the SCN. This mechanism starts a new day. Another sprocket is the hormone melatonin. Its levels begin to rise in the evening. It is melatonin that tells us to go to bed and causes fatigue. Melatonin levels start to decline in the second half of the night. It is a signal for us to wake up.
Cyclical processes in the SCN are genetically controlled, with some of the genes being overwritten in one part of the day. Their protein products cumulate and their limit concentrations switch on another gene, which through its feedback response inhibits the activity of the first gene. A simple mechanical case, isn’t it? But it works well. There is a range of similar genes. And because we are not genetically identical, also the circadian mechanisms in our brains are adjusted differently. That is why the population consists of individuals of various chronotype, from early birds to night owls.
This variety is completely normal. Nevertheless, we are variable from a different point of view as well, in a way we know very little about today. At the same time, the entire circadian machine, finely tuned, is really fragile. About twenty per cent of people have noticeable problems in certain periods of the year when the length of sunshine changes rapidly and their circadian system, which in their case works at the limit of its capabilities, is not able to prevent sudden destabilization of physiological phenomena. People with such predisposition may be susceptible to obesity, diabetes, season-based sleep deterioration, decreased performance and mood changes, among other things.
Serious circadian dysrhythmia, accompanied by extreme mood swings, is the tip of an iceberg. Some of the forms it takes are bipolar affective disorder (BAD) or recurrent depression. Most mood disorders seem to have something to do with disrupted circadian rhythms. This, provides much hope for new forms of treatment. If we managed to make long-term records of changes in circadian stability, we could predict the onset of a new phase; relapse if you like, in predisposed individuals suffering from affective disorder. Being able to indicate deterioration in a patient’s condition weeks before they feel any changes in their mood, subjective nature of sleep and performance would mean a win for us. To that end, however, long-term monitoring of circadian system parameters is necessary. Actigraphy, a method of monitoring physical activity, provides a great option. How much we move determines our daily routines, getting up, travelling to work, a walk in the afternoon, falling asleep, sleep intermittently broken by micro periods of wakefulness and morning awakening. All this time and time again, with basic regularity and variations enforced by external conditions.
Our current research in this field now primarily focuses on psychiatry, in particular mood disorders and psychoses. However, we are also testing application in areas such as sleep medicine, neurology and lung medicine, where circadian rhythms have been hypothesised to play a role.
It all starts with a simple wristband, permanently worn by its user on the wrist. The wristband looks like a usual fitness band and measures a person’s physical activity and sleep. The user installs a free application in their mobile phone and data is transferred via Bluetooth. This allows the user to regularly check their sleep as well as activity. All data collected by the mobile app is sent encrypted to a server where it is evaluated. The user then chooses who they want to share their data with trough a web portal.
The main difference is in the way data is handled. Fitness bands / applications aggregate raw activity data into well-known fitness parameters like the number of steps, calories burnt or periods of sleep, and the rest of the data is thrown away. The data analysis by Mindpax is far deeper than that. We work with primary data, looking for long-term trends and links to an individual’s medical condition development as well as fitness parameters. As the amount of data grows Mindpax algorithms are custom-adjusted for the user and detect deviations from the norm.