Your internal body clock may be able to heal you

Story highlights

  • Wounds healed nearly 60% faster for injuries occurring during the day rather than at night
  • Afternoon surgery patients had a 50% lower risk than morning patients of a cardiac event

(CNN)Circadian rhythms control your sleep and wake cycles as well as guide essential bodily functions including metabolism, blood pressure and even the individual cell-level work done by your genes.

In fact, each of your cells has its own biological clock, which is synchronized via temperature, hormones and other bodily cues, while the entire clockwork symphony is coordinated by a single conductor, a master clock in your brain known as the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nuclei.
A Nobel Prize awarded to three American scientists who focused their research on the genetic and molecular biology of circadian rhythms suggests how fundamental these processes are to our health. Alina Patke, a research associate in the lab of Dr. Michael Young, one of the Nobel Prize winners and a professor at Rockefeller University, explained that circadian rhythms not only control human behavior and physiology but also that of animals, plants and even fungi.
    Studies show that disruptions of our body's clockwork contributes to diseases as diverse as cancer and diabetes.
    Recently scientists have begun to wonder if the opposite might also be true: Could healing be guided by this clockwork as well?
    Two new studies support this idea, widening our perspective and encouraging us to consider timing as essential to the process of recovery.

    Timing of injury

    Wounds, such as burns and cuts, heal nearly 60% faster when the injury occurs during the day rather than at night, a new study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine found. Scientists from the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, analyzed the records of 118 burn injury patients who had been cared for in England and Wales.
    They found burns that happened at night (between 8pm and 8am) took longer to heal than burns that occurred during the day (between 8am and 8pm), the researchers found -- an average of 28 days compared to only 17 days.
    One reason for this faster daytime healing was that skin cells moved much more quickly to repair the wound site when the body clock was set for daylight, the team said. Within individual cells, this speed was driven by increased activity of proteins that are involved in cell movement and repair.
    Mouse experiments, where the researchers made incisions to the skin, also showed wound healing to be significantly greater when wounds were inflicted during the animal's active phase compared with the rest phase.
    Further examining this process in the lab, the researchers "found that the microscopic architecture of the cell, the actin cytoskeleton, has a 24-hour rhythm in skin cells grown in a dish," said Ned Hoyle, lead author of the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at the MRC Laboratory.
    "One of the main jobs of these cells in a whole animal is to respond to wounds by moving into them and secreting proteins to repair the damage," said Hoyle.
    The researchers believe this healing process is driven by individual cells' internal circadian clocks -- and not signals transmitted throughout the body.
    Hoyle also speculated that cellular clocks at the site of surgery could be "adjusted to the best time for healing before the operation," while more generally, "the time