Can the Biological Clock be Reset Non-visually?
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Q:  Can the Biological Clock be Reset Non-visually?

Always being a night owl for about as long as I can remember, I have a question about circadian rhythms and their possible contribution to wacky mood fluctuations over time.  I have read the article on your website, entitled "Biological Clocks and Bipolar Disorder"  but what if light (at least in the conventional sense of receiving it through the eyes) cannot be used as a means of resetting it?

The reason why I ask this particular question, is because I am totally blind, due to complications of prematurity, since 30 years ago, they still didn't quite have a handle on monitoring oxygen levels in the blood, which consequently resulted in irreversible retinal detachment back then.

Some of my more wacked out fluctuating mood stuff didn't start until just a few years ago, but I am trying to sort things out, and am looking for possible connections, something to help me put any of this into perspective.  What are your thoughts about this?  Is merely feeling the sun's heat on the skin sufficient, to have a similar sort of effect, or are there other additional factors in establishing and maintaining more balanced circadian rhythms?  Thank you so much for any thoughts or helpful insight.

Dear Tina -- 
There is some evidence to support a role for heat in setting biological clocks (found at least in part in the works of Michael Norden, M.D. from the University of Washington in Seattle, who has worked with David Avery, M.D. there, on many different research projects relating seasonal variables and mood). 

So, it would be interesting to see if you could use something like a tanning salon, at a very regular time, to affect mood.  Many patients report positive mood experiences from going to such places (though surely there are a lot of variables involved there, e.g. dreaming of lying on the beach in Mexico, etc.!).  

If your eyes have any sensitivity to light at all there might still be some way to use light to reach your hypothalamus, which has some direct fibers coming to it from the retina and is sensitive to the photons that make it through closed eyelids.  

Other factors affecting rhythm, from the work in Pittsburgh by Ellen Frank and colleagues, include the time of rising and the time of lying down to sleep, so you could  focus on being very regular about those as a possible means of stabilizing, or even moving, your biological clock settings.  

I'm afraid that's about all I know.  If you really want to pursue this further, I mention those researchers' names as sources you might try to contact for a consultation to discuss this further.  Good luck with that. 

Dr. Phelps

Published May, 2003


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