Circadian rhythm expert, Dr. Alex Stankiewicz Ph.D, joins Todd Stewart and Bob Calise to discuss why our bodies have a circadian rhythm, why it matters, what the long-term effects of poor sleep habits are, and how to better align your circadian rhythm for improved health and happiness. We highlight how his career went from undergraduate studies, to a circadian-specific research lab, to being the first person to discover and document the daily rhythm with adult neurogenesis.

Dr. Alex Stankiewicz Ph.D Quick-Hit Career Timeline

Neurobiology and Anatomy: Completing his doctorate at Boston University

While completing his doctorate, Alex was the first person ever to document the daily rhythm of adult neurogenesis – which is the process by which neurons are generated from neural stem cells.

How Alex became interested in circadian rhythm

After volunteering in different psychology labs and getting involved with psychology research, he realized that he wanted to understand the molecular mechanisms behind behaviours so he started volunteering in the neuroscience lab at Boston University. This is what led to him starting his Ph.D there. While he was in the sleep and circadian physiology lab studying zebrafish, he began learning about the importance of circadian rhythms and why they’re so ever present in our society, from humans all the way down to one-cell bacteria. This started everything.

Why do circadian rhythms matter?

We evolved with the 24-hour light-dark cycle (which is the length it takes earth to rotate) and all living things on this planet have the same 24-hour circadian rhythms. The most well known rhythm is our sleep-wake cycle, but there are also other rhythms like, metabolic, cognitive mood, hormonal, health, physical strength, and immune response. All of these have a cycle of about 24-hours and goal is to align the timing of them – such that you’re not waking up in the middle of the night to eat (which is a sign of misaligned rhythms).

Circadian misalignment (sleep loss) is associated with short-term effects like poor concentration, fatigue, mood swings, decrease in sport performance. Long-term effects associated with sleep loss are depression, ADHD, obesity, cancer, alzheimer’s disease.

Alex explains the things that affect circadian rhythms (we’re just mentioning a few here. Alex goes into more detail in the podcast)

How light affects circadian rhythms

Light is one of the most important circadian rhythm regulators. Think of your body parts as a symphony – light is the conductor that tells when these instruments should play. When you have bright light (LED lights from phones, TVs, the sun etc), it actually resets your circadian rhythm. Looking at the computer at night will decrease your melatonin production and disrupt your ability to get a good night sleep.

How not having a consistent schedule affects circadian rhythms

When we change time zones that’s known at jet lag. When we change our schedules on the weekends, that’s known as social jet lag. What happens there is that our internal body clocks are not in-line with our environment because it only takes a couple hours to throw off your clock. Which is a problem. Currently there is a sleep loss epidemic in the United States of America – 1 out of 3 American adults are sleep deprived. 1 out of 3!

The annual loss of productivity because of sleep deprivation in the United States is over 411 billion dollars. As the world becomes more globalized and the work-days are lengthened this is going to become a larger problem.

Sleep hygiene plays an important role in your circadian rhythm

Sleep hygiene is simply known as your routine before you go to bed. Good sleep hygiene can be taking shower or hot bath, reading a book, light stretches, maintaining a cold and dark room for sleep, or avoiding screens before bedtime. Alex’s routine is that he dims the lights when he is brushing his teeth. He’s signaling to his brain that it’s time to produce melatonin and time to go to sleep!

In this episode we also discuss other things like exercise and caloric intake.

Connect with Alex and say hi!

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