Joovvin’ with Dr. Panda

Joovvin’ with Dr. Panda

Updated on:

Dr. Satchin Panda

Join us as we delve into the world of circadian rhythms with Dr. Satchin Panda, a distinguished Ph.D. and professor who serves as the director of the Regulatory Biology Laboratories at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. In this interview, Dr. Panda sheds light on how circadian rhythms intertwine with our sleep patterns, mood, and overall well-being, offering valuable insights into their impact on our lives.

Introduction to Circadian Rhythms

Joovv: For those who may not be familiar, how would you explain the concept of circadian rhythms and why they are crucial for our health and well-being?

Dr. Panda: Circadian rhythms are the internal timetables for every cell in every organ in our body, including the brain. Circadian rhythms constitute the master plan that guides what time of the day or night each of our 20,000 genes turns on or off so that every function of our cells and organs is tuned for peak performance. 

These timed activities in our body improve our immune function to better fight infectious diseases, accelerate repair functions to recover from injuries and optimize brain function to elevate emotional and intellectual health. Circadian rhythms also supercharge our metabolism, detoxification, and DNA repair programs so that we live at a reduced risk for chronic diseases from diabetes to cancer. 

Factors Influencing Circadian Rhythms 

Joovv: We’ve often talked about light being a key factor that can influence our circadian rhythm. What are some other factors that play a role in shaping our circadian rhythms?

Dr. Panda: When we are exposed to light for how long and to what color of light can nurture or disrupt our circadian rhythms. Often we don’t have control over our ambient light. But the good news is when we eat and how long we fast around our sleep time are equally or more important for nurturing our circadian rhythm. 

When we don’t sleep, we are likely to be under light or have food cravings. So, when and how long we sleep is also an important factor that affects our circadian rhythms. 

Ideal Circadian Rhythm for Optimal Health

Joovv: What would the ideal circadian rhythm look like for optimal health, and how can individuals work towards achieving and maintaining this balance in their daily lives?

Dr. Panda: An ideal daily lifestyle that nurtures our circadian rhythm has six elements. 

Number 1. 8 h in bed. Go to bed at a consistent time and be in bed for 8 hours, so that you can get at least 7 h of restorative sleep. During sleep, our circadian clock turns on hormones and chemicals to repair and rejuvenate our body and mind.

Number 2. Wait an hour before your breakfast. After waking up, try to avoid food for at least an hour. This is the time when your organs are slowly waking up, the night hormones are falling and day hormones are rising and your body is not fully ready to properly digest food. Avoiding food for at least an hour after waking up can help to better maintain your blood glucose.

Number 3. Intermittent fasting or Time restricted eating. This is the core of the circadian optimization plan and I am proud that almost 10 years ago my research team at Salk Institute discovered this revolutionary concept. Eat your first bite of food or breakfast at a consistent time. Breakfast synchronizes circadian rhythms in all organs of the body. Starting from breakfast eat or drink all your meals for the day in the next 8, 9, 10, or a maximum of 12 hours. This pattern of eating within a consistent time and having a long fasting is called time-restricted eating and is now popular as intermittent fasting. This is the most powerful habit to boost your circadian rhythm in every organ. It has numerous health benefits including a better handle on your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, liver function, kidney function, immune function, and many more. 

Number 4. An hour of daylight. Another land-mark discovery from my lab is about daylight. Step outdoors to get some daylight. Even on a cloudy day, spending 30min to an hour outdoors is a brain booster. Daylight synchronizes our brain's circadian rhythm, improves mood, reduces depression, and is the best source for Vitamin D, which keeps your bones healthy. 

Number 5. Afternoon exercise. Get a daily dose of exercise. If you are pressed for time, try 30 minutes of brisk walking in the late afternoon or evening, when your muscles are most efficient and you have lower risk for injury. For those with diabetes, exercise in the afternoon or evening is more potent in controlling blood glucose than exercise in the morning. 

Number 6. Winding down. Avoid food and dim down your lights for 2-3 hours before bed time. No food before bedtime improves digestion and reduces heartburn. Dim light boosts the rise of nightly hormones and prepares your body for a good night sleep that you deserve.

Genetic vs. Lifestyle Influence on Circadian Rhythms:

Joovv: Are people born with a certain circadian rhythm? For example, some people seem to be very active and awake in the morning/early part of the day while others don’t feel awake until later in the day/evening. Is this genetic, or is this a learned lifestyle choice?

Dr. Panda: Yes, genetics has some contribution to our circadian rhythm, but genes account for less than 1% of our circadian rhythm. For most night owls, when and how much stimulants (including coffee or tea) we consume or how much light we are exposed to after evening plays a major role in delaying sleep time. As most of us have to wake up before 8am for work, study, or caring for others, night owls are likely to have insufficient sleep at night and thence are less alert or active in the morning. Conversely, those who go to bed earlier so that they can have their sleep quota before 8am are likely to be more alert and active in the morning. So, before we blame our genes, it is better to pay attention to light, stimulants, and lifestyle to see how our habits affect our circadian rhythm. 

Practical Strategies from "The Circadian Code"

Joovv: In your book, 'The Circadian Code,' you discuss practical strategies for aligning daily activities with circadian rhythms. Can you highlight some of these strategies? Secondly, how can individuals incorporate circadian-friendly practices into their daily lives for better health?

Dr. Panda: The six strategies mentioned in the book emphasize sleep, fasting, exercise, and light exposure.  The details described are backed by science from the Panda Lab and others.  In the book, the scientific research backing the development of the protocols for daily habits is explored in detail. These details are then translated to prioritize sleep, eating schedule, and exercise. Light is a crucial factor. Low light at night boosts sleep and recovery. Targeted light each morning aligns circadian hormones and also helps with focus and sleep.

Sleep Quality and Circadian Rhythms:

Joovv: Sleep seems to be a constant struggle these days for many individuals. How much is sleep quality directly tied to circadian rhythms, and are there specific recommendations for improving sleep hygiene in alignment with circadian principles?

Dr. Panda: Many of us know the basic sleep hygiene of sleeping in a cool, dark room with the least distraction from gadgets. But, we often forget that our body prepares for sleep starting from the time we wake up. Or to be more practical from around noon. Because what we do for 9-12 h before bedtime affects the quality, quantity, and timing of sleep. Some of the often overlooked habits that can promote better sleep are:

  • For better sleep at night stop caffeine after 2 pm
  • Get an hour of daylight – any time of the day. Daylight somehow boosts nightly rise of the sleep hormone melatonin. 
  • Afternoon or evening exercise or even brisk walking can boost sleep pressure. 
  • Stop alcohol 4-6 h before bedtime. 
  • Stop food and calorie containing beverages at least 3 h before bedtime. 
  • No bright light for 2-3 h before bedtime. 

Red Light Therapy and Circadian Rhythm:

Joovv: In your opinion, does red light therapy have any direct or indirect impacts on circadian rhythm?

Dr. PandaAny treatment that makes a person relax and relieve pain, can potentially improve sleep. So, I suspect red/infrared therapy can indirectly help with better sleep and circadian rhythm. 

Dr. Pandas Experience with Joovv

JoovvYou’ve recently started implementing Joovv red light therapy into your daily routine. What's been your experience so far?

Dr. Panda I use the infrared options along with the red light. I was pleasantly surprised how it relieves general muscle and joint soreness. As musculoskeletal health is necessary for reaping exercise benefits. red/infrared light can be an integral part of physical fitness. 

Future Directions in Circadian Biology Research:

Joovv: What do you see as the future directions of research in circadian biology? Are there specific areas or questions within circadian biology that you find particularly intriguing or in need of further exploration?

Dr. Panda:

  • We need research in the area of how different shiftwork or shiftwork-like lifestyle affects our health and conversely, how to negate the adverse effects of circadian rhythm disruption with healthy habits so that we can sustain peak physical, emotional, and intellectual performance throughout our lives. 
  • We need research on how timing of medication, surgery, vaccination and even in-hospital care can be optimized to accelerate cure and return to normal health. 
  • We need more people to participate in circadian rhythm research and also be spoke person for the benefits of having better circadian rhythm. 

Ontime Health App:

Joovv: You recently launched a new app called 'Ontime Health.' What can you tell us about the app and how one could use it? How does it contribute to promoting circadian health and well-being?

Dr. Panda: Ontime members participate in an initial 12-week program of learningand developing health habits based on circadian science. Focus on sleep, fasting, light health, and light hygiene enable members to achieve health goals. Support and coaching are provided throughout the journey. As members progress they are provided with the tools to apply the latest in circadian research to improve whichever goals are in focus. It is exciting that the years of groundbreaking research are now translated to be used by friends and family in all walks of life supporting all aspects of health.

*The views and opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily support the guidelines of use for Joovv products. Any content provided by our guest collaborators are of their opinion and are not intended to diagnose, cure, or prevent specific diseases of medical conditions.