You may have noticed that you often feel energetic and tired at the same times most days, without fail. This is down to your circadian rhythm.
What Is Your Circadian Rhythm?
This is essentially an internal 24-hour clock that is running in your brain and cycles at regular intervals between alertness and sleepiness. Often you might read or hear about it being referred to as your wake/sleep cycle.
Generally speaking, for adults, a big energy drop occurs during the night, between 2 am and 4 am (when you are sleeping) and between 1 pm and 3 pm (and yes, this is why you often crave a nap after lunch). These times are different from person to person, so yours might not be quite the same if you are more of a morning person or prefer to be up late into the night.
Your circadian rhythm will also be harder to spot if you are getting enough sleep. You tend to have bigger swings between alertness and sleepiness when you are lacking sleep.
If the latter better describes you than the former, it means that something is messing with your circadian rhythm. What kind of things mess up this internal body clock and how do you fix it? This is what we are going to discuss in the article below.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder is the name given to a condition caused by external forces and these disorders cause disruptions to the circadian rhythm. They are divided into two main categories, extrinsic (circumstantial) and intrinsic (built-in).
The extrinsic variety happens when even though an individual’s rhythm is in-sync with the normal light/darkness patterns, external factors disrupt it. This includes factors such as traveling, school or employment demands and unnatural schedules.
The intrinsic variety exist when an individual has a body clock that is significantly out of sync with the rest of society. This is either because they ride later than the average person or go to sleep later.
It can also happen if the sleeping and rising later starts to gradually get later each day or becomes fragmented.
The most common circadian rhythm sleep disorders are:
- DSPD – Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
- ASPS – Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome
- Non-24 Hour Sleep/Wake Syndrome
- Irregular Sleep/Wake Syndrome
- Shift Work Sleep Disorder
- Jet Lag Sleep Disorder
DSPS – Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome
DSPS involves an individual feeling tired at later times at night than the average person, meaning that they stay awake later. However, as they still need the same amount of sleep as most people, they rise later than most in the morning too.
As a result, produce melatonin around 2 hours or more later, meaning they stay awake later, but because of this delay in melatonin, early rising is harder. People tend to have problems with DSPS when their circadian rhythm doesn’t sync up with school or job starting times.
This means they have to wake up earlier than their body is able to deal with, meaning they lose a number hours of sleep each night.
ASPS – Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome
This particular variety of circadian rhythm sleep disorder makes sufferers feel sleepy much earlier than normal in the evening, meaning they go to bed earlier than other people.
Similarly to DSPS sufferers, people with ASPS need the same amount of sleep but feel like they need to go to bed 2 hours or even earlier and rise around 2 hours or earlier.
Non-24 Hour Sleep/Wake Syndrome
Also known as Free Running Disorder, individuals with this particular condition have circadian rhythms that are completely out of sync. As a result, they have sleep cycles that are more than the normal 24 hours.
This means their body clock causes them to have later bedtimes every few days, meaning they go to bed and wake up at later times every day.
Irregular Sleep/Wake Syndrome
Individuals with sleep/wake cycles that are not characterized by normal sleeping patterns suffer from this condition. Rather than a longer period of sleep, they have regular naps over the course of 24 hours.
In the end, it usually means they have a sleeping pattern of around 7 to 9 hours. However, there is no real regularity and the duration and frequency of their naps can vary on a daily basis.
Shift Work Sleep Syndrome
As you may have guessed from the name, this particular circadian rhythm disorder is suffered by people who have work schedules that conflicts with their body clock. This causes them to endure excessive levels of daytime sleepiness or insomnia.
There is a chance for some people to adapt properly to their schedules if their shift work is the same types of shifts all the time. It is the people who work on a rota basis that are most at risk of this condition.
Jet Lag Disorder
One of the most common that travelers and holidaymakers will be familiar with. This occurs when an individual travels across time zones very quickly, normally when the destination has a time difference of a few hours than their home.
It occurs most often if someone is 2 time zones out of their usual time zone.
How To Fix Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
There are various forms of treatment that can be used to treat the above conditions.
Therapy Focused On Behaviour
While it does depend on the specific disorder a person suffers from, lifestyle and behavioral remedies can help reduce the systems, such as:
- Sticking to regular sleeping and rising times
- Avoiding daytime naps
- Participating regularly in exercise
- Avoiding smoking and drinking caffeinated drinks too close to bedtime
Adjusting to daylight exposure. If an individual suffers from DSPS, exposure to electronics that mimic daylight should be reduced, such as mobile phones, televisions, laptops and handheld games consoles. If an individual suffers from ASPA, exposure to light should be increased in the evening.
Therapy involving Light
Bright Light Therapy is often used to help people with both delayed or advanced sleep disorders. It involves using a light box with a high-intensity rating. It helps to re-calibrate their circadian rhythm when they sit in front of it on a daily basis for a specific duration.
There are some prescribed medications that can be used to treat the disorders, depending on what one an individual suffers from. Both sleeping aids and wake-promoting medications can be used.
Often, the sleep-regulating hormone Melatonin can be prescribed to help reboot the body clock.
By Valerie S.
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