Over the last few years, we have made huge strides in understanding our circadian rhythms. But there are still big questions to answer.
One key area of interest is the relationship between our inner clocks and our immune system.
According to a new report published in Nature, our circadian rhythms could be key to treating and preventing the spread of COVID-19.
What is a circadian rhythm?
Sometimes called the inner clock, circadian rhythms are the natural cycle of changes that the body goes through in 24-hours. Circadian rhythms are mostly affected by light and are controlled by a small area in the middle of the brain. They affect our sleep, hormones, appetite, and even immune system.
The severity of infection
The complex relationship between our inner clocks and viral infections is a relatively new concept.
However, research suggests that we are more susceptible to infections at certain times of the day. It seems that our immune system – like so many functions in the body – follows a daily rhythmic pattern.
To be clear, as things stand there is no direct evidence of circadian control of Covid-19. However, there is evidence for circadian regulation in other respiratory viruses. We know that Influenza A, for example, is affected. So scientists think it possible that circadian rhythms could also be key to treating Covid-19.
As the recent Nature report says: “Boosting circadian immunity factors could help to manage COVID-19, as circadian clocks provide a competitive advantage to the host.”
The timing of treatment
Circadian clocks regulate the efficacy of many therapeutics. Put simply, some drugs are more effective at different times in the day.
We also know that dosing time can affect vaccines, as the time of day influences the strength of our bodies’ antibody response.
At present, there is no established, effective therapy for COVID-19 infection. The available treatments are mainly supportive. However, in order to obtain the best results, scientists are calling for circadian rhythms to be considered when designing and planning vaccinations.
The importance of circadian health
On a personal level, the Nature report is an important reminder that our circadian rhythms have a significant impact on our health.
Now more than ever, we need to be mindful of how our routines, daily rhythms and sleep have real and lasting effects on our mental and physical wellbeing. Don’t forget – there are things we can do to help maintain balanced sleep-wake cycles.
And on a wider level, the report underlines why society as a whole needs be more aware of circadian rhythms. From the lighting in our homes and offices to our work hours, it’s important to design a world that supports our inner clock. Our health and happiness depend on it.