Have trouble falling or staying asleep? Occasional insomnia from stress, injuries or even caffeine is common. But something else could be the cause. Circadian rhythms play a big part in our sleep patterns. Circadian rhythms cause changes in our bodies during a 24-hour cycle and tell our brain’s master clock when to prime us for sleep or wakefulness. The daily flow of these rhythms affects sleep through the release of hormones and highs and lows in blood pressure and body temperature.
It’s All about Light and Timing
Light is one of the biggest external triggers that control circadian rhythms and cues us to feel sleepy or alert at different times during the day. When it gets dark our brain releases melatonin, a hormone that prepares our brain for sleep. And when daylight breaks, circadian rhythms raise our body temperature and release cortisol, a hormone that promotes alertness. We actually have two sleep drives, one from 2 to 4 a.m., and another weaker one from 1 to 3 p.m. caused by an afternoon circadian rhythm dip in body temperature that releases melatonin. Harvard researchers say a 20 minute afternoon nap is an ideal pick me up.
Circadian Rhythms Out of Sync
When something goes awry with our circadian rhythm clock, due to travel, working the night shift or even just being a certain age we can end up with insomnia and other sleep disorders.
We’ve seen what happens when we cross several time zones; insomnia sets in because our internal clock is different than the new time zone we’ve entered. Travelling eastward is harder since our day is shortened and our natural circadian rhythm cycle is cut short.
Remedy: Try a homeopathic medicine targeted for travelers like JetZone Jet Lag Prevention to avoid symptoms of sleeplessness, headache and drowsiness.
Shift Work Disorder
Working at night and sleeping during the day can cause circadian rhythms disruptions that can lead to poor quality of sleep and leave you exhausted. This is especially true for those who rotate shifts.
Sleep Phase Disorders
Teens and seniors are susceptible to circadian rhythm troubles. Many teens hitting puberty (researchers say up to 16%) experience Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome where circadian rhythms are off by two or three hours. These night owls have trouble falling asleep at usual times, and are often alert hours after normal bedtime, and usually have trouble waking the next morning.
Remedy: Experts say sticking to a sleep schedule, especially during weekends and holidays helps, as does avoiding back light from phones, computer screens and TVs a few hours before bedtime.
Others, especially seniors, may develop a condition that’s just the opposite, known as Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome. These folks can’t stay awake, often going to sleep at 6 or 7 p.m. and waking up in the middle of the night.
Remedy: Researches say using a light box for an hour at night (between 7 and 9 p.m.) can help adjust your internal body clock, and delay sleep.