Sleep Disorders, Sleep Remedies & Insomnia Relief


An Interrupted Circadian Rhythm (Body Clock) Can Disrupt Sleep

Maybe you've heard of your 'body clock,' but have never quite understood what it is. When people refer to their inner body clock, they are making reference to their circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is in charge of coordinating your daily sleep-wake cycle. Your body actually has hundreds of circadian rhythms. These cycles control and coordinate your body's varying temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, hormone levels, and numerous other factors that allow you to move about comfortably every day. Your circadian rhythm operates on a 24-hour cycle. Your brain relies on outside influences (called zeitgebers) such as daylight to set your circadian rhythm each day. Our bodies depend on these external cues to set our internal body clocks. Any time that your circadian rhythm becomes interrupted—for instance, if you experience several nights of sleep deprivation—your circadian rhythm is thrown out of sync.

Unfortunately, many people are unable to keep a steady circadian rhythm because of their employment. People who work at night are particularly vulnerable to this danger. People who work during the nighttime hours interrupt the body's natural biological and psychological rhythms. Many of these individuals may eventually suffer from a circadian rhythm disorder. Other people who are vulnerable to developing a circadian rhythm disorder are people who keep very irregular sleep schedules, those who travel frequently and experience jet lag, and people who simply do not get enough sleep due to insomnia or other sleep disorders.

What happens when your circadian rhythm is disrupted? Not only does your ability to get a restful night's sleep become compromised, your immune system is also compromised, making you more vulnerable to getting colds and flu's. Your body becomes more susceptible to weight gain, you are more vulnerable to develop mood swings, and your body's digestive system may be thrown out of whack. How does your circadian rhythm affect your ability to get a good night's sleep? A disruption of your circadian rhythm may cause you to become sleepy and fatigued during work hours, and you are more likely to develop chronic insomnia. It is usually much more difficult to achieve restful sleep during the day. There are far more interruptions and environmental factors that negate the amount of sleep you can achieve during the day. Short-term disruptions to your circadian rhythm can also cause fuzzy thinking and an overall lack of clarity. This can result in an increase of workplace accidents caused by fatigue.

The long-term effects of an interrupted circadian system can leave you vulnerable to any number of illnesses and diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. You may also be more vulnerable to psychological, mental, and emotional disturbances.

If you are a nighttime shift worker, what can you do to reduce the adverse effects that such work might have on your circadian rhythm? First, you must be proactive in maintaining good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene means that you keep a regular sleep schedule, waking and retiring at roughly the same time each night. You should strive always to sleep in a dark, quiet room. If you sleep during the day, you can make or purchase special blackout curtains that will allow you to pattern the effects of nighttime in your room. Turn off phones, timers, cell phones, and any other reminders that it is not really night time. You can use a white noise device or a fan to drown out any noise you may be exposed to while trying to fall asleep.

Once you have established an environment conducive to getting a good night's rest, you should strive to establish other healthy lifestyle habits that can help you achieve restful sleep. Getting regular exercise can help you maintain a steady circadian rhythm. Ideally, you should exercise at roughly the same time each day. You should also strive to eat small, frequent and healthful meals, and to stay well hydrated throughout your work shift.

If you are a nighttime worker, you should avoid overexposing yourself to natural light after your shift is done. The light will signal to your brain that it is time to 'wake up.' Wear sunglasses, or try to get home before absorbing excessive daylight. This will make it much easier for you to fall asleep once you get home. Also, after awaking from your daytime sleep, you may want to expose yourself to 30 minutes or so of artificial light. This will help signal to your brain that its time to wake up.

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