How a Malfunctioning Body Clock Can Lead to Thinning Hair

Do you know what a circadian rhythm is? If you don't, it could well be worthwhile finding out and making sure you're in tune with yours, especially if you are a night worker or have unusual sleep patterns.

Researchers have linked disrupted circadian rhythms to health issues such as obesity, premature ageing, diabetes, cardiac arrhythmias, immune deficiencies, hypertension and abnormal sleep cycles,* - many of which have the added effect of also triggering hair loss.

Clock ageing timeWhat is a circadian rhythm?

Circadian rhythms are essentially the internal timing set by our body clock that reset approximately every 24 hours. People often believe they are the result of night and day light, given these rhythms determine whether you are a morning person or a night owl. However, they are actually produced at a molecular level, with more than 10 different protein-producing genes being involved.

Night owls tend to have slightly slower body clocks, whilst morning people's are somewhat faster.

Issues such as night-shift work, seasonal affective disorder, changing shift patterns or anything else - for instance, jet lag - which causes a lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns can disrupt the body's circadian rhythms.

Whilst it was generally observed that sticking to a strict routine and sleep pattern could help to reset circadian rhythms in many of these cases, in 2015 researchers from Vanderbilt University, Tennessee, USA ** discovered that light therapy may be used to restore the body clock's normal functions.

Blood test to establish body clock issues

Researchers from Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, USA, recently developed a blood test, known as the Time Signature test, which they believe can determine whether a person's circadian rhythms are too fast or too slow; this may be particularly useful as a diagnostic tool for what the team says are often-missed circadian rhythm sleep-wake disorders. It could also help in the fight against other health issues negatively influenced by an out-of-whack body clock.

According to a report on Chief of Sleep Medicine at the University medical school's neurology department, Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD - who is also a director of the Centre for Circadian and Sleep Medicine, advised these conditions "present like somebody who may have insomnia or somebody who may have what we call hypersomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, but it’s actually due to an alteration or pathology in the circadian clock system".

The Time Signature blood test involves taking two samples from patients in order to compare their circadian rhythm timing to actual real-world time.

“This is a first step towards providing what I call a biomarker, a time based biomarker, for circadian timing, and it isn’t just for sleep,” explains Dr. Zee. She hopes it may also be useful in determining optimum dosage times for medications which target associated genes, such as blood pressure drugs, adding: “We can maximize not just the effectiveness, but also decrease the side effects of medications”.

Effects of sleep on hair growth and hair loss

When we regularly don't get enough sleep it can show in ways other than just feeling tired. Frequent, good quality sleep is crucial for healthy hair growth.

When this is significantly disrupted it can cause stress to the body and can also affect the immune system. In turn, this can have a drying effect on the skin and hair and lead to health problems and hair loss.

There are two main temporary hair loss conditions which can arise in these instances: Telogen Effluvium, if it lasts up to six months, and Chronic Telogen Effluvium, also known as Diffuse Thinning, where it presents for at least six months. In each instance shedding occurs from all over the scalp, resulting in what can appear to be suddenly thinning hair and excessive hair fall, but actually takes around three months to become noticeable.

Hair Growth Cycle DiagramOnce the triggering stress gets to a certain excessive level, the body will seek to protect its vital organs and critical functions, diverting resources away from secondary functions such as hair growth. This pushes hairs that would normally be in the active growth phase of the hair growth cycle, into the resting 'Telogen' phase, after which they then shed and hair loss ensues - hence the roughly three month delay in noticing the issue.

Generally these temporary conditions will resolve themselves naturally once the underlying issue has been addressed - in this case, the normalisation of circadian rhythms and/or treatment of any conditions this may have caused or exacerbated. However, treatment is also possible to help accelerate the regrowth process.

If you find you are losing more hair than normal for six or more weeks consecutively, it is wise to consult a hair loss specialist. The main reason being that it is important to get a professional diagnosis of your condition, particularly when it is potentially linked to an underlying illness or health issue.

Although regular and chronic forms of Telogen Effluvium are temporary, in men and women with the relevant genetic predisposition, they can initiate early onset of Male Pattern Baldness, or for women Female Pattern Hair Loss; they may also worsen existing cases of these permanent conditions. Given hair loss treatment options exist for all such problems, having a hair expert pin-point the exact issue(s) at play can lead to recommendations for the most suitable, tailored course components for each individual.

*Source: Anesthesiology - The Journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists, May 2015 doi: 10.1097/ALN.0000000000000596. ** Source: Nature Journal - Neuroscience, November, February 2015
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