Circadian Rhythms

Life – Terror. Ecstasy. Fight. Denial. Flight. Failure. PAIN. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Hope. Love. Peace – Death. 

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday? No mater the day of the week I awake close to 7.00am on a workday or not?

Frustrating?

Think of the positives, there are in fact two 7.00 o clocks in one day after all? All that ‘spare’ time to do stuff!

This was not always the case. Growing up, especially in my later teens, I would (routinely) sleep much later, often into the afternoon.

Does aging provide us with an internal, biological, alarm?

I normally go to bed between 10.30-11.00pm and awake (involuntarily) at 6.30-7.00 even after a less than perfect sleep. Restless sleep or deep sleep it makes no difference.

Do we sleep less as we grow older?

Science (research) tells us that Sleep patterns tend to change as you age. Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep. They wake up more often during the night and earlier in the morning. Total sleep time stays the same or is slightly decreased (6.5 to 7 hours per night).

Contrary to popular opinion, older people don’t need less sleep than the average person. In fact, adults require about the same amount of sleep from their 20s into old age, although the number of hours per night varies from person to person.

Fu says researchers have found that short sleepers tend to be more optimistic, more energetic and better multitaskers. They also have a higher pain threshold, don’t suffer from jet lag and some researchers believe they may even live longer

Changes in production of hormones, such as melatonin and cortisol, may also play a role in disrupted sleep in older adults. As people age, the body secretes less melatonin, which is normally produced in response to darkness that helps promote sleep by coordinating circadian rhythms.

Resting your eyes is a good way to relax your body and replenish your eyes before it needs to take on more tasks, but it is in no way a substitute for sleep. Your body needs the replenishing benefits of sleep to function properly and restore itself.

A circadian rhythm is your body’s natural, internal clock. It regulates your sleep-wake schedule based on a 24-hour day. Even if you’re unaware of it, your circadian rhythm is constantly running in the background. It affects both your physical health and mental fitness. Because of their massive effect on our types of sleep and overall well-being, it’s important to understand what circadian rhythms are.

Circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that form part of the human body’s internal clock. These rhythms operate in the background to perform essential processes and functions. This includes encouraging a regular sleep cycle. The sleep-wake cycle is one of the most well-known circadian rhythms.

Different systems of the body follow circadian rhythms that synchronize with a ‘master biological clock’ in the brain. Environmental cues like light and dark directly impact this clock. It’s for this reason that circadian rhythms tend to follow the consistent cycles of day and night.

When they are correctly aligned, circadian rhythms promote healthy, consistent sleep. When they’re thrown out of balance, you can experience circadian rhythm sleep disorders. These include early waking, insomnia, and delayed sleep phase disorder.

All organisms have a circadian system. They help diurnal animals — animals that are active during the daytime — to wake with the sunrise. And they ensure that nocturnal animals only leave their burrows at night. Circadian timing also instructs flowers to open at ideal times for pollination.

The human circadian rhythm system coordinates our physical and physiological systems. It instructs our digestive systems to produce certain proteins. These proteins match the timing of our meals and regulate our endocrine systems.

Our wake rhythm is connected to the circadian pacemaker in our brains, made up of 20,000 neurons. This ‘master clock’ is the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) in our hypothalamus. Our genes instruct the SCN to send signals that regulate our body’s activity during the day.

This SCN is extremely sensitive to light. This makes it an important environmental cue that influences how the SCN sends signals within the body. Other cues that regulate the SCN’s activities are dietexercisesocial activity, and room temperature.

The sleep-wake cycle is one of the clearest examples of these rhythms in action. During each day, exposure to light prompts the SCN to send signals that keep us alert, active, and awake

As night approaches, the eyes send a signal to the hypothalamic master clock. 

This triggers the pineal gland to produce melatonin, the hormone that promotes sleepiness at night. These specialized signals continue during the night to keep us asleep until the morning light triggers a new cycle.

This is how our circadian rhythms align our sleeping patterns with the cycles of day and night. This alignment promotes a consistent cycle of sleep that helps us stay active during the day. 

Here are some factors that can cause your biological clock to become out of sync.

1. Work shifts with erratic hours

Erratic shift work with poor work-life balance can change the body’s response to natural light-dark cycles. This can cause significant disruptions to your circadian rhythms and even cause shift work sleep disorder.

2. Caffeine

Caffeine can disrupt your sleeping patterns and keep you awake for longer than usual. The effects of caffeine last hours after you ingest it. 

Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks like coffee in the afternoon. Always avoid all caffeine for at least four hours before bedtime.

3. Medications

Prescription medications can all affect sleep patterns to varying degrees. These include: 

  • Diuretics 
  • Clonidine 
  • Beta-blockers 
  • Sedating antihistamines 
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
4. Mental health conditions

Research in circadian rhythm psychology shows that disruptions in circadian rhythm are clear in people suffering from mental health conditions. People diagnosed with depressionanxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are often affected. 

Chronic stress can also disturb the biological clock. This is due to the overproduction of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. 

Research shows that resynchronizing circadian rhythms can improve symptoms of poor mental health.

5. Light exposure

Light signals the SCN to keep you awake and alert. This is especially true of the blue light emitted by electronic devices like smartphones and tablets. Even minuscule amounts of light can delay your circadian rhythm by two to three hours.

6. Travel and jet lag

Jet lag is a physiological condition that happens when we travel across time zones. This kind of long-distance travel can cause changes to our body’s circadian rhythms.

For example, if you travel from a GMT0 time zone to a GMT +6 zone, you may feel like the time is six hours earlier than local time. This can disrupt your sleep pattern, which can take weeks or even months to correct.

7. Changes in genes

At least 15 ‘clock genes’ are thought to make up our circadian clock. Differences in these genes are what cause each person to have their own biological clock.

Certain underlying genetic conditions can also change your circadian rhythms. Examples include delayed sleep phase syndrome and irregular sleep-wake disorder. 

These kinds of conditions can make it difficult to maintain regular sleep patterns.

8. Unhealthy sleeping habits

Poor sleep hygiene can extend your sleep rhythm, keeping you awake for longer. This can further disrupt your circadian rhythms.

Unhealthy sleeping habits include:

  • Using electronic devices late at night
  • Not following a set sleep schedule
  • Eating and drinking late at night
How to maintain a healthy circadian rhythm
1. Seek out the sun

Enjoying natural daylight in the morning encourages your brain to stop producing melatonin. As soon as your alarm goes off, open the blinds or go outside to enjoy some sunshine. This will regulate your biological clock. Spending time in nature is also a great self-care practice to kickstart your day the right way.

2. Follow a sleep schedule

Depending on where you are in the world, melatonin production begins at around 9 pm and slows at 7:30 am. Try to base your sleep schedule around these intervals.

Give yourself an extra hour to wind down before bedtime. This can help align your circadian rhythms.

Add good habits like mindfulnessreflection journaling, or breathwork to your nightly sleep schedule. These kinds of relaxing wellness activities prepare your body and mind for a good night’s rest.

3. Avoid caffeine after certain hours

Caffeine can keep you awake for hours after ingestion. This is why it’s important to limit your caffeine intake at least four hours before your bedtime.

4. Limit light before bed

Artificial light from televisions, smartphones, and indoor lights can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. This delays the production of melatonin, which delays your sleep. 

Switch off electronic devices at night. Use built-in night light settings to reduce the amount of blue light you are exposed to if you do need to use your phone. 

You can also invest in blue-light-blocking glasses that help keep your natural body clock regulated.

5. Daily exercise

Studies have found that scheduling workouts for a certain time of day can improve your body’s sleep cycles. This helps you to feel refreshed and alert the next morning.

On the other hand, exercising very late in the evening can delay your biological clock and lead to insomnia.

6. Reserve your bedroom for sleep

Using your bedroom for activities other than sleep trains your brain to expect activity whenever you’re in the room. Reserve your bedroom for sleep to avoid this.

7. Limit naps

Naps can be rejuvenating if your energy levels are low and you’re feeling physically exhausted. But they can disrupt your sleeping patterns, especially if you tend to nap later in the day. 

If you do need to nap, it’s best to do so before 2 pm to ensure that you do not experience insomnia later at night.

Thanks for Reading

Peace

Circadian Rhythm: What Is It and How Can I Fix It? (greatist.com)

Circadian Rhythm and Your Brain’s Clock – YouTube

Published by Riff

Husband to my inspirational, (long suffering,) wife Gail, father to two, amazing (adult) children, Aubrey & Perri, teacher, former guitarist, recent 'granda(r) to my beautiful grandson Henderson, with another two on the way. I Love people. I love my family, my incredible friends, I have love(d) what I do (my Job), I love Music, Glastonbury Festival, Cars, Everton .... I love many things but, most of all, I fucking love 'life'.

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