“We have made clocks that are perfectly in sync with the industrial machinery and the Information Age and perfectly out of sync with nature and our circadian rhythm.”
The time is 7:04. It’s Thursday, the day I always write my newsletter. I’ve just woken up with the sun, as I do every morning. I spend half an hour sojourning in bed, which I keep directly on the floor for exactly two reasons: so that I can feel closer to the Earth, and so that I can look up out of my bedside window and see the sky. Once a month, when the moon is full, I open my eyes to her beaming down on me long before dawn. I know that I could avoid this, that I don’t have to keep my curtains drawn, but it feels right: to live my life by the passing of the light.
After getting out of bed, I take my clay teapot off its shelf and begin boiling water while I brush my teeth and wash my face. Once I hear whistling, I take my pot to the spot on my rug where I always have tea. Over the next hour, I sit for three cups. I close my eyes and I focus on the taste from the leaves, the heat of the water, the gentle breeze coming through my window. I don’t have a meditation practice anymore, but I do this on Thursdays because I find it helps the words flow more easily. And it reminds me that even in a big city, we can connect with nature.
I use the leftover water to make myself a bowl of muesli mixed with sunflower butter and dried cherries that my best friend brought me from home. By the time I get dressed and sit down at my desk, it’s 9:17. I answer a few timely emails and messages from my team, and then I close Slack so that I can focus on writing. I put my phone on the other side of the room because I know that it will distract me, too. I open a blank document, and I remind myself of the theme I had already chosen for this week’s edition: chronobiology and circadian rhythms.
I begin as I always do, with research. I gather my sources, a mix of articles, studies, and journals. I start with the etymology of the word circadian from Oxford Languages: a combination of the Latin circa, meaning about, and dies, meaning days. Then, the definition, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences: “Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. These natural processes respond primarily to light and dark and affect most living things, including animals, plants, and microbes.”
I learn that these processes are governed by biological clocks: specific protein molecules that interact with other cells in our bodies. I learn that they exist in most tissues and organs of most organisms—including animals, insects, plants, and fungi. Even more to my amazement, I learn that all of the clocks contained in a living thing are kept in sync by what’s known as a master clock. In vertebrates, it’s a cluster of 20,000 nerves in the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is located in the hypothalamus and receives light directly through the eyes.
And so I start to write—all the words you’re reading now. I write about how our circadian rhythms and biological clocks tell us to be awake during the day and asleep at night. I write about how they keep us healthy, how they help regulate our hormone levels and body temperature, our appetites and digestion. I write about how they tell sunflowers to rotate their faces with the sun so that they can absorb as much energy as possible throughout the day. I write about how they tell phosphorescent organisms to shine at night and grow dim with dawn’s light.
It’s afternoon now, which means the sun has begun pouring into my office. I think about why I chose this subject in the first place: a reminder that our days have a rhythm, that all things do. I think about how easy it is to miss in the midst of our busy lives, buzzing beneath the surface, only perceptible with presence. I think about the concept of small clocks kept in sync by a larger clock. I think about nature and the world outside my window. I think it’s time to take a walk.