Eddie Ramirez, MD
Rhythms of Life: The Sabbath and Our Internal Clocks
I have always been fascinated by the cycles found in nature. When I was an undergraduate student I actually designed a computer simulation, based on Newtonian physics, of our solar system’s planetary orbital patterns.
It is not only planets that exhibit predictable cycles. So do we. From menstrual periods to our everyday circadian rhythms, our cycles are intentionally designed. This topic is so important that the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physiology and medicine went to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.
One of the most amazing discoveries in the field of chronobiology is that not only the human being, but every living creature, has an internal clock. Why do we need these internal clocks? Imagine working in an office while being challenged with multiple asynchronous tasks, some of which apparently conflict with each other. How would you be able to get anything done? The coordination required to create a smooth workflow would be exceedingly complex. But this is what happens within the human body: our internal clocks regulate complex functions that need to be synchronized. Every organ in the body has a clock; every cell does too – and these clocks help keep the many and complicated systems working harmoniously within the human body. One primary clock in the human body synchronizes everything from its location in the hypothalamus, and the rest of the clocks in our body, trillions of them, need to be synchronized with this master clock. That is one of the reasons why it is difficult to think clearly following a bad night’s sleep.
Encouragingly, there are things we can do to help keep these clocks stay synchronized. Exercise, meals, and exposure to light—all of these activities, when done consistently at the proper time, can synchronize our body clocks.
We have documented (Ramirez et al. 2016) how people with irregularity in their eating and resting habits have more mental health issues than do those who are more consistent and regular in their patterns.1 Ecclesiastes teaches us that there is a proper time to do things: “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven,” – Ecclesiastes 3:1. It works the same with our bodies.
How do our body clocks impact us? Have you noticed times when you feel quite sharp? Or dull? When you feel especially energetic? Or lethargic? All of these feelings are related to our internal clocks. If we learn to respect them, our bodies function much better.
Unfortunately, it is not hard to create problems with these clocks. A recently published paper documented that after just three days of desynchronization (e.g. changing work from the morning to the evening), the body rhythms became disordered. For one example, the pancreas had a harder time increasing its insulin levels.2 Obesity, diabetes and cancer can also desynchronize our body clocks. Good health and well-synchronized clocks go hand in hand.
What about those who claim that they function better at night? Perhaps surprising to some, that is more myth than reality. In a recent study, scientists put a group of “night owls” on a camping trip that lasted one week, and when electronics and other artificial stimulation were removed, all these “night owls” suddenly became “morning birds.”3
The Seven-Day Cycle
Decades ago, researchers discovered that apart from the daily and monthly rhythms, a seven-day cycle also exists, not only for human beings but for every living thing. Campbell describes it as the following: “These circaseptan, or about weekly, rhythms are one of the major surprises turned up by modern chronobiology. Fifteen years ago, few scientists would have expected that seven-day biological cycles would prove to be so widespread and so long established in the living world.”4
Cycles are all around us. What happens every year? The Earth goes around the Sun. What happens every month? The moon goes around the Earth. But what happens astronomically every week? Nothing in nature itself or so it seems. But God did something special for the weekly cycle. He blessed every seventh day: “Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” – Genesis 2:3.
This Sabbath day “was a memorial of the work of creation, and thus a sign of God’s power and His love.” – Desire of Ages, p. 248
This is the same power that Jesus displayed in His healing miracles. “The power of love was in all Christ’s healing, and only by partaking of that love, through faith, can we be instruments for His work. If we neglect to link ourselves in divine connection with Christ, the current of life-giving energy cannot flow in rich streams from us to the people.” – Desire of Ages p. 825
Keeping the Sabbath, therefore, is an expression of our desire to receive the healing power and the sanctification that comes from the Creator.
Evidence now shows that the blessing of the Creator has left its mark on every living creature. No wonder that even non-Jews in the time of Jesus were also resting on the Sabbath day. Flavius Josephus wrote: “The masses have long since shown a keen desire to adopt our religious observances; and there is not one city, Greek or barbarian, nor a single nation, to which our custom of abstaining from work on the seventh day has not spread.”5
Further, the fourth commandment itself gives us insight into how the Sabbath is not only for humanity. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.” – Exodus 20:8-10.
Why are cattle listed in the commandment? Have you ever seen a “religious” cow attending church? Could it be that even the animal world can be benefitted by the Sabbath day as well? That is, by living in this heaven blessed rhythm of life?
There is now no question that there are physical as well as spiritual benefits to keeping the Sabbath. Around the world, even though there are many vegetarian groups, Seventh-day Adventists are one of the groups that have a further longevity edge. And this could be related to resting on the Sabbath day. According to Perry and Dawson: “At first glance, it might seem that weekly rhythms developed in response to the seven-day week imposed by human culture thousands of years ago. However, this theory doesn’t hold once you realize that plants, insects, and animals other than humans also have weekly cycles. . . . Biology, therefore, not culture, is probably at the source of our seven-day week.”6 Reinberg agrees with the hypothesis: “We hypothesize the seven-day time structure of human beings is endogenous in origin – a hypothesis that is affirmed by a wide array of evidence.”7
John 5 gives us further insight about the Sabbath. Jesus used the Sabbath day for healing. “The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath.” – John 5:15-16.
When confronted by the religious leaders for His deeds, Jesus answered: “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” – John 5:17
But didn’t God rest on the Sabbath after creation? Yes, but there was no sin then. Nevertheless, Christ was resting in His Father’s work, as the Father was working through Him to repair the damage done to humans and other animals by sin.
The French Revolution Tries to Change the Calendar
During the 18th century, in the feverish pitch of the French Revolution, the leaders (Jacobins) wanted to remove any vestige of spirituality from their culture. One of the cyclical reminders of faith was found in the weekly calendar. Because they knew the Bible defined a seven-day week, they wanted to challenge that divine institution. Therefore, Oct. 5, 1793, became year 1; the seven-day week became a 10-day week; and instead of four weeks per month, they had three per month – all in order to remove any traces of Christianity from their calendar.
Rather than resting every seven days, their rest came every 10 days. Instead of bringing prosperity and health, this change brought a decrease in productivity and an increase in sickness, even to the point that in just a few years the people wanted the calendar changed back to the seven-day cycle. On Jan. 1, 1806, Napoleon reinstated the Gregorian calendar and the seven-day week.
About 140 years later, the Soviet leaders tried to change the seven-day week in an attempt to improve productivity and to once again try to interrupt the cycle of weekly religious worship. However, it didn’t work for them any better than it did for the Jacobins, and by 1940, the seven-day cycle had been reinstated in the Soviet Union.
There is a strong weekly rhythm in day to day mood.
Pleasure and Stress
Other elements can be involved with keeping the Sabbath. Dr. DJ Larsen from Purdue studied human stress levels. Using volunteers, he found that there is a definite pattern of stress and pleasure. He wrote: “It appears that … there is a strong weekly rhythm in day-to-day mood. This pattern shows a peak around Friday night and Saturday and a trough around Monday or Tuesday.”8 The Sabbath day was the most pleasurable day of the week, according to this study, in which the participants weren’t Jews or SDAs. Notably, this secular paper said that the pleasure actually starts on Friday night.
It is interesting in this context to note that the “honeymoon” of Adam and Eve was on Friday night, the most pleasurable evening of the week. We also can see the link between the Sabbath and pleasure in Isaiah 58:13-14: “If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath, From doing your pleasure on My holy day, And call the Sabbath a delight, The holy day of the Lord honorable, And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways, Nor finding your own pleasure, Nor speaking your own words, Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord; And I will cause you to ride on the high hills of the earth, And feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father. The mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
The results of a doctoral thesis showed that marital intimacy is greater among those who keep the Sabbath. This is especially true when a balance of intrinsic commitment to keep the Sabbath and an extrinsic desire to engage in ‘Sabbath activities’ (e.g. interaction with family and friends, enjoying the outdoors, religious services) together exists. 9
How we keep the Sabbath can impact our mental health. “There was a significant correlation between Sabbath keeping and mental health”.10
When the Sabbath is occupied with spiritual and communal activities, an improvement in mental health has been documented in an observational study. In contrast, when the Sabbath was kept out of duty or social pressure, or when secular activities were done on the Sabbath, even without pay, such as cutting grass, painting houses, these activities were all associated with an increase in mental health problems.11
From the cycles of the planets in our solar system, to the weekly cycle of the Sabbath, to the daily cycles in our body, creation functions in certain biorhythms. As part of God’s creation, our bodies, our minds, and our souls need cycles of regularity and rest. By seeking to be regular in our daily habits (eating, sleeping, and exercising) and by keeping the weekly Sabbath, we can take advantage of these God-given rhythms of life and health.
1Ramirez F, Nedley N, Siebold Buller J, Antuna K, Sanchez A. 2016. Regularity In Eating And Sleeping Seems To Improve Depression. Obesity Reviews. 17. 211.
2Sharma A, Laurenti MC, Dalla Man C, Varghese RT, Cobelli C, Rizza RA, Matveyenko A, Vella A. Glucose metabolism during rotational shift-work in healthcare workers. Diabetologia. 2017 Aug;60(8):1483-1490.
3Wright KP Jr, McHill AW, Birks BR, Griffin BR, Rusterholz T, Chinoy ED. Entrainment of the human circadian clock to the natural light-dark cycle. Curr Biol. 2013 Aug 19;23(16):1554-8. Epub 2013 Aug 1.
4Winston Churchill’s Afternoon Nap: A Wide-Awake Inquiry into the Human Nature of Time. Jeremy Campbell. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1986. p. 79.
5Against Apion, ii.282.
6Susan Perry and Jim Dawson, The Secrets Our Body Clocks Reveal, (New York: Rawson Associates, 1988), pp. 20-21.
7Reinberg A, Dejardin L, Smolensky M, Touitou Y. 2016. Seven-day human biological rhythms: An expedition in search of their origin, synchronization, functional advantage, adaptive value and clinical relevance. Chronobiology International. 34. 1-30.
8Larsen, RJ, Kasimatis, M. 1990. Individual differences in entrainment of mood to the weekly calendar. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58(1), 164-171.
9Boyd, 1999. Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psychology, doctoral dissertation.
10Devon J. Superville, Kenneth I. Pargament & Jerry W. Lee. 2014. Sabbath Keeping and Its Relationships to Health and Well-Being: A Mediational Analysis. The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 24:3, 241-256.
11Jerry W. Lee, PhD, from the Department of Health Promotion & Education Loma Linda University School of Public Health. Sabbath and Health. Presented at the Mind and Spirit In Dialog meeting at Loma Linda University on January 24, 2009. https://publichealth.llu.edu/sites/publichealth.llu.edu/files/docs/sph-sabbath-and-health.pdf
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