S_L /ShutterstockIt doesn’t take much to injure yourself. A simple trip can have you flat on your face. You dust yourself off, reach for the antibacterial ointment and bandages, and prepare to answer a lot of questions about why you’re sporting a Frozen BandAid on your face. With the knowledge that time heals all wounds, you go on with your life, knowing eventually you’ll be good as new. But according to research, time isn’t the only remedy.
A new study, published in Science Translational Medicine, has concluded that timing of the wound also plays great importance in how long it takes to heal. And while you can’t exactly control when you’re going to trip and fall on your face, the findings suggest patients have a shorter time of recovery from surgery if it’s performed during the right time of day.
John O’Neill, a biologist at the Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, and his team found that skin cells help mend wounds more quickly in the daytime as opposed to at night. (Here’s another reason you’ll want to make sure you don’t have surgery at night.) This is thanks to our circadian clock.
Up until now, biologists and neuroscientists have believed our circadian clock lives solely in the brain. But recent research has found that cells in other parts of the body are also keeping their own time. Researchers have remained puzzled by such findings.
O’Neill and his team wanted to uncover how cells in organs like the liver and lungs are able to maintain their own 24-hour schedule, so they began studying skin cells known as fibroblasts, which are essential for wound healing.
When you trip and scrape your knee, fibroblasts come to the rescue, filling the gap in the skin to create a foundation for new skin to grow. These cells seem to have their own 24-hour clock, so O’Neill and his colleagues looked for proteins within the cells that are in cohesion with daily rhythms.
What they found was that proteins that orchestrate the creation of the cell’s actin-based skeleton worked the daytime shift, directing the fibroblasts to slip into the injury hole and commence the healing process.
The researchers then tested their hypothesis with cells grown in a flat layer in a petri dish. As they assumed, fibroblasts were more diligent at their job during the day.
“You can see by eye, when the cell is wounded only eight hours apart from each other, in a different circadian phase, the [daytime] wounded ones take off, and the [nighttime] one drags,” O’Neill told Science Mag.
The researchers then revealed that mice who suffered wounds in the day healed better than those who suffered them at night. The real test was in humans, however.
O’Neill and his team took their hypothesis to the human level, analyzing data from the International Burn Injury Database for information on the time of day an injury occurred. The results were fascinating: people who suffered burns during resting hours took an average of 11 days longer to heal than people who suffered burns during waking hours.
O’Neill believes that their findings could help people better recover from scheduled surgeries. The study’s findings also point out that our bodies are likely made to respond quicker in the daytime. Find out how to speed up healing, no matter what time of day you’re injured.