Creation’s Invisible “Clocks”
‘I HATE being tied to a clock!’ Is that the way you feel at times? If so, perhaps the thought has crossed your mind: ‘How nice it would be to leave clocks and watches behind, never again to be troubled by their incessant ticks and alarms!’
However, no matter where you go on this planet, there are certain clocks from which there is no escape. They started ticking when you were just a tiny fetus in the womb. They stop only when you draw your last breath.
Scientists call these our biological clocks, or circadian (meaning ‘about a day’), rhythms. Failure to abide by our clocks’ schedule often results in problems for us.
The Biological Clocks
The Creator wisely put within us clocks that regulate certain physical processes. Do you find yourself getting sleepy at night? One reason for this is that your body temperature rises and falls according to a definite pattern or rhythm. At night your temperature begins to drop. But as morning nears, it rises again, and soon you are awake, ready for activity. Do you get hungry near mealtime? Well, your pulse, blood pressure, and sugar levels are timed according to certain biological rhythms.*
Actually, medical scientists have discovered that invisible clocks govern over a hundred different cycles in our bodies. And interestingly, many of these clocks synchronize with yet another sophisticated timekeeping system: the rotation of planet Earth. As our planet whirls on its axis, it subjects every living thing on it to regular rhythms of temperature and light change. So as one writer put it: “It is not surprising . . . to discover that the behavior and metabolism of most organisms follow a 24-hour schedule.”
Researchers, though, have tried to fool these internal clocks by placing life forms in a laboratory setting, keeping the temperature, light, food, and sound constant. Invariably, though, the 24-hour rhythms persist! This shows us that the circadian clocks are internal, even though some external influences can affect or even upset them to a degree.
Upsetting the Clocks
Right now your body’s clocks are probably adjusted to the time zone in which you live. However, afternoon in California, U.S.A., is nighttime in Europe. Therefore, after flying on a jet aircraft between these two points, you might experience headaches, sluggishness, and sleep problems—a condition commonly known as jet lag.
What has happened? Your biological clock has become confused. It is desperately trying to adhere to your home schedule. (Shift workers often experience similarly disagreeable symptoms.) Business plans, conferences, or even the pleasure of a vacation can be adversely affected by the headaches, insomnia, irritability, digestive problems, and fatigue that jet lag often brings.
Interestingly, such problems did not occur in the days of slower transportation. The body’s clocks had time to adjust to a new time zone before the traveler ever arrived at his destination. But with jet travel, one can cross four or five time zones in only a matter of hours. This can throw your eating and sleeping schedule completely out of order! As you can imagine, this is particularly troublesome for airline personnel. A former pilot for an international airline told Awake!:
“I experienced no problem crossing many time zones on what we called a 12-hour turnaround schedule because that would bring me home again within the same 24-hour period. However, when given a five-day stopover run from Vancouver [Canada] to Amsterdam or Rome, my problems began. My whole system seemed upset. Trying to overcome the problem, I would go walking until I got so physically tired I just had to sleep. After five days my system would just get adjusted to European time, and then it would be back to Vancouver to do the same thing all over again. Sedatives were not the answer. It was really hard.”
Experience shows that west-to-east travelers suffer the most severe adjustment problems. Those going east to west suffer less since the day simply becomes longer, making it easier for the body to adjust. One airline pilot assigned to the Vancouver-Tokyo run minimized his problem by always remaining on Tokyo time no matter which city he was in. Circadian rhythms, though, are usually not affected by north-south flights because they remain within one or two time zones at the most.
Clocks in Other Living Things
Of course, man is not the only living creature endowed with built-in clocks. Swallows return each spring to Capistrano, California, U.S.A., on time. There are oysters that open their shells at high tide and close them at low tide, regardless of the coastal areas. Various plants open by day and close at night.
Why, so well timed is the appearance of grunion (fish) on Southern California beaches for their ‘mating dance’ that newspapers publish the precise time of their arrival. Even certain microscopic algae have a 24-hour rhythm, giving off a phosphorescent glow for 12 hours of the night.
In trying to uncover the fascinating secrets of living things, men have greatly enhanced our appreciation of creation. Yet, it is good to remember that it was not until the 1940’s that men began to recognize the phenomena of biological clocks. In their excitement at their discoveries, some scientists often forget the obvious—that there is a Designer of these wonders. He surely is the One who best understands the workings of living clocks. After all, he set them ticking!
Biological clocks, or circadian rhythms, are not to be confused with what are commonly called biorhythms. For a discussion of biorhythms, please see Awake! of April 22, 1979, pages 16-19.
[Box on page 19]
Overcoming Jet Lag
□ Flying West: Try to fly late in the day so that you arrive at the time when you usually retire.
□ Flying East: Retire earlier the night before you leave. Travel so as to arrive during evening hours. If it is a night flight, try to stay awake all next day, retiring early in the evening.
□ If crossing more than six time zones, plan a stopover along the way when practical.
□ On arrival do moderate exercises, walk, jog, or swim and follow with light evening meal.
□ If on medication: Consult your physician before departure as to when to take it in the new time zone. Particularly diabetics on insulin should watch this.
□ Eat lightly a few days before and during the flight, and for a few days after.
□ Do not drink any hard alcoholic drinks or take any sleeping pills immediately previous to, during, or on conclusion of the flight.
□ Do not smoke while in flight, or at any other time! It deprives the body of oxygen badly needed on high-altitude flights.
□ Where possible, do not have business dealings or conferences on the day of arrival.
[Box/Pictures on page 20]
□ Bees: “Train their own internal clocks to be at the right place at the right time to reap their honey harvest.”
□ Tinamou: “Three-hour bird” of Panama sings every three hours, day and night. You can set your watch by it.
□ Flicker woodpecker of Canada and the United States: One was observed to quit its activities on schedule at 3:35 each afternoon without fail.
□ Salmon: Internal clocks indicate time to return from the sea to the river where they were spawned.
□ Palolo worms in the Fiji Islands: Surface and begin their reproductive activities as dawn breaks on nights of third quarter of moon during months of October and November.
□ Fiddler crabs: Have a precise 24-hour schedule of turning dark during day and pale at night. Color changes are geared to the sun and feeding habits to the moon.