(Lansing State Journal, Jan. 5, 1994)
Biological cycles of all sort affect our lives, from harvesting food to taking care of our health. Paying attention to natural cycles can pay off with better well-being.
From prehistoric times, human beings have been aware of the seasons. With the development of agriculture, people paid close attention to the seasonal changes, planting and harvesting according to these annual changes. Other creatures are tuned into similar cycles of their own. Many insects increase in numbers with the availability of food. Because insect life spans are generally shorter than a year, cycles occur in which different life stages (larval and adult) are abundant. When farmers pay close attention to such cycling, they can make better use of pesticides by spraying only when they will be most effective. This minimizing of pesticide application is economically and environmentally desirable.
Human beings also can benefit from paying attention to their own daily rhythms. Doctors have noted that chemotherapy may sometimes be more effective when administered at certain times of the day. They also use the natural variation of internal hormone levels as a diagnostic tool for some diseases. Heads of state and business travelers who fly all over the world all recognize the sign of jet lag. They often take advantage of research findings that suggest how to minimize these affects. These include maximizing entertainment (getting in synch with environmental cues of new time zones) on long trips, and avoiding a change of schedule as much as possible on short trips.
It is important to your health to pay attention to your own cycles. Periods of readjustment can feel uncomfortable and are, in fact, quite stressful for some. Therefore it is best to remain on a stable schedule as much as possible. People who frequently alternate day and night shifts at work often cannot get enough sleep, because their bodies are continually trying to readjust. Their appetite, too, is irregular, and they are less likely to eat adequately balance meals. Needless to say this also applies to high school and college students who work late at night to complete their assignments. Caffeine and a deadline help keep people awake, but people generally do not perform as well under such stressful conditions. While pulling all-nighters is possible, it is not the best way to do one's best work.