Sleeping is an important biological process that affects your overall health and mental health too. Without a properly functioning circadian rhythm, our bodies are prone to exhaustion, mental disorders, obesity, and other physical illness. The disruption in your sleep-wake cycle is called circadian rhythm sleep disorder. There are many causes and solutions as well.

What is circadian rhythm?

The body maintains a biological rhythm called circadian rhythm or circadian cycle which is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours. It can actually refer to any process that originates within an organism and responds to the environment.  The circadian rhythm is controlled by both the internal genetic components of the biological clock (clock genes) and external factors including those from nutrition and the environment.  It is affected by light and dark such as being awake in the day and sleeping at night which is why it is responsible for the regulation of our sleepiness and alertness.

How circadian rhythm works?

When your eyes receive light, the optic nerve transmits signals to the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN)- a tiny region in your brain located in the hypothalamus- that finally inhibits the sympathetic nervous system thus melatonin- a hormone responsible for making you sleep- does not get released into your blood circulation from the pineal gland. However, if you are in a dark area, the SCN sends signals to your pineal gland to release melatonin for you to sleep.

What is a good circadian rhythm?

You can achieve a good circadian rhythm by sleeping and waking up at a stable time consistently and having 7 or 8 hours of sleep every night.

Circadian Rhythm Chart

What are the health benefits of a good circadian rhythm?

A good sleep-wake cycle will benefit your overall health including, reenergizing your body and mind, maintaining good memory, nervous system, and metabolic processes as well. Consistent quantity and quality of sleep are crucial for physical and mental health and longevity.

Benefits of Proper Sleep:

  • Improves your immune function and protects against cell damage
  • Supports proper brain function and improves focus, memory, concentration, learning, and productivity
  • Lowers your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, dementia, and obesity
  • Increases “healthspan” (living longer in a healthier state as opposed to living longer in a debilitated, degenerative state
  • Affects glucose metabolism and reduces type 2 diabetes risk
  • Lowers risk for obesity.

What is a circadian rhythm sleep disorder?

Circadian rhythm sleep disorder is a problem within your circadian rhythm that makes you suffer sleep insomnia or makes you struggle to fall asleep.

How do you know if you have a circadian rhythm disorder?

Sleepy woman yawning

 

People with circadian rhythm sleep disorder experience the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Difficulty staying asleep (frequently waking during the night)
  • Early awakenings
  • Waking to feel tired or exhausted
  • Headaches, stomach problems, poor coordination, and reduction in cognitive skills.

What causes circadian rhythm sleep disorder?

Anything that causes sleep disruption can result in deterioration in your internal body clock leading to a circadian rhythm sleep disorder. Some of these causes are

  • Changing work shifts
  • Jet lag
  • Some medications
  • Certain health conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia, and head injury
  • Frequent change in your sleep pattern and routine
  • Menopause related sleep issues

What are the kinds of circadian rhythm sleep disorders?

There are different types of insomnia and there are 6 types of circadian rhythm disorders:

  1. Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder
    People who are night lovers know this type well. You are more productive, alert, and energetic at night, sleep and wake up late, and if you are forced to wake up early, you feel lazy and sleepy during the day. This type is common between adolescents and young adults.
  2. Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder
    Here you sleep and wake up very early. For example; sleep around 7 pm and get up around 3 am. This makes you feel sleepy and less focused in the late afternoon or early evening. This type may be common between middle age and older adults.
  3. Jet Lag
    Jet lag is experienced by changing time zones. This especially disrupts your normal sleep-wake cycle if the difference between the time zones of your home and destination is 2 hours or more.
  4. Shift Work Disorder
    When there is frequent change in your work shifts by working all day for some days then all the night for other days. This causes problems in your internal body clock leading to insomnia.
  5. Irregular sleep-wake rhythm
    Here you sleep and wake up in undefined periods like taking several naps during the day. This type is common between people with medical conditions or children with intellectual disabilities.
  6. Non-24-hour sleep-wake syndrome
    Here your internal body clock doesn’t synchronize to a 24-hour day in which your sleeping time delays every day by minutes to hours but you have the same length of sleep and awake period. This type is common among blind people.

What are the risk factors of circadian rhythm sleep disorder?
There are different internal and external factors that may put you at high risk of acquiring insomnia symptoms

Internal factors:

  • Age: the sleep-wake cycle may differ according to age. Usually, teens sleep late, putting them at risk for delayed sleep-wake phase disorder while older people usually sleep early putting them at risk for advanced sleep-wake phase disorder.
  • Sex: men are at high risk of advanced sleep-wake phase disorder. However, women suffer circadian sleep disorder due to many reasons including; hormonal changes in menopause and pregnancy, sleep discomfort during pregnancy, and after birth to take care of the baby.
  •  Genetics: genetic preference may play a role in your sleep-wake cycle in addition to some mutations that may happen in your genes which are related to a circadian rhythm or brain development.
  • Some diseases including; genetic diseases (Smith-Magenis syndrome, Angelman syndrome, and Huntington’s), mental diseases (bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia), neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease), eyesight diseases (blindness and macular degeneration), brain damage conditions (strokes, and brain tumors.

 

Night Shift Doctor

 

External factors:

  • Job or occupation: doctors, nurses, or anyone who works in different shifts are at risk of shift work disorder. Pilots and flight attendants are at risk of jet lag.
  • Lifestyle habits: some habits you do every day can contribute to this disorder such as alcohol, caffeine, illegal drugs, exposure to artificial screen light before sleeping from mobile phones or TV screen, and lack of exposure to daylight.

How do circadian rhythms affect body function and health?

Researchers have concluded that circadian rhythm can affect your hormonal release, digestion, mood, eating habits, and body temperature. Circadian rhythm sleep disorder could have the following negative consequences on your health:

  • Increase symptoms of depression and mood disorders: A study published in Translational Psychiatry stated that circadian sleep disorders and chronic insomnia can affect people with major depressive disorder (MDD), bipolar disorder (BD), anxiety, and schizophrenia by worsening their symptoms.
  • Increase your risk of sarcopenia that is a disorder that affects your skeletal muscle mass and strength according to a study in Korea.
  • Increase risk of disease: A systematic review published in the International Journal of Biological Sciences discussed the health risks of internal clock disruption and found that it could lead to cancer, cardiovascular diseases, fatigue, indigestion, metabolic diseases, poor cognition skills, impaired physical performance, gastrointestinal disturbances, peptic ulcer, and diabetes.

How do you fix a circadian rhythm sleep disorder?

There are many ways to fix your sleep-wake cycle from changing life habits to consuming specific sleep supplements. Solutions to sleeping problems vary depending on the severity of your case. The following are some ways to support falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer, or resetting your circadian rhythm.

1. Chronotherapy:  Changing your bedtime gradually by going to bed 2 or 3 hours earlier or later until reaching a regular sleep-wake schedule.

2. Bright light therapy:  It is recommended that you be under the supervision of a sleep specialist during this therapy. Here you will be exposed to a high-intensity light (2,000 to 9,500 lux) for one or two hours depending on your case. The goal is to sync your circadian clock with the earth’s cycle of light and dark by advancing or delaying your sleep. Be sure to avoid exposure to any screen light -mobile phone or TV- before bedtime.

3. Lifestyle changes: Slight changes could make a difference such as maintaining regular sleep and wake times even on weekends, avoiding naps, decreasing alcohol and caffeine consumption especially before bedtime.

4. Quit smoking: Smoking is one of the major causes of many deaths around the world, also scientists discovered that nicotine can disrupt your circadian rhythm making you an “evening person” according to a study in Nicotine & Tobacco Research. There are three reasons for this:  First, tobacco can deteriorate the expression of clock genes in the lung and brain causing restlessness night sleep according to this study.  Second, studies also show that smoking can increase your risk of obstructive sleep apnea disorder by 2.5 times more than non-smokers in which you wake up in the night as you can’t breathe leading to sleep disruption because smoking irritates the tissue of your nose and throat causing swelling that obstructs the airflow.  Lastly, nicotine is considered a stimulant similar to caffeine which makes the average person loses 1.2 minutes of sleep for every cigarette according to this study.

5. Exercising: Exercises have tremendous health benefits including prevention of obesity and heart diseases in addition to promoting your sleep quality. It has the ability to improve your sleep and regulate your circadian rhythm as it stimulates the production and secretion of melatonin hormone according to this study.

6. Meditation: Meditation can increase melatonin levels by enhancing its production in the pineal gland and slowing its metabolism as well. Researchers found that people who meditate have a higher melatonin concentration than those who don’t meditate.

7. Medications: Doctors often prescribe medications to help with sleep or to help with sleepiness during the day.   These include benzodiazepines, nonbenzodiazepine hypnotics, orexin receptor antagonists, and Provigil.

8. Dietary supplements:  There are several natural supplements (vitamins, minerals, and plant nutrients) that have been proven in double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical studies, to help reestablish healthy, natural sleep patterns. These include, vitamin B-6, magnesium, glycine, valerian root, ziziphus jujube, hops, and melatonin. A dietary supplement containing all of these ingredients at doses proven effective in clinical studies is available from Akeso Health Sciences.

How long does it take to fix your circadian rhythm?

There is no certain length of time to fix your sleep disruption as it depends on the cause of your insomnia and the severity of your case. However, some experts suggest that it may take from two weeks to two months. Improving circadian rhythm and establishing natural, healthy sleep cycles, will help you reach the crucial stage of DEEP SLEEP where much of your life-sustaining bodily processes and healing occur.

What is deep sleep and why do you need it?

Deep sleep is also referred to as “slow-wave sleep” (SWS) or delta sleep.

  • Your heartbeat and breathing become their slowest as your muscles relax
  • Your brain waves become the slowest they’ll be while you’re asleep
  • It’s difficult to awaken even with loud noises

Many people never reach or stay long in deep sleep and sadly miss out on all of the crucial benefits. Deep sleep is where most healing, rejuvenating, and cellular repair occurs.  Reaching deep sleep determines whether you will feel refreshed and alert the next day or groggy and unfocused. Benefits include:

  • energy restoration
  • cell regeneration
  • blood supply to muscles increases
  • promotes growth and repair of tissues and bones strengthens the immune system

Learn more about reaching deep sleep naturally for better health and longevity.

Which foods and drinks are most likely to disrupt sleep?

What you eat or drink has an effect on your sleep quality as mentioned in a study in mediators of inflammation journal, scientists in this research also recommended decreasing the consumption of the following foods.

  1. High glycemic index foods: these foods could make you sleepy after its consumption due to two theories; the first theory is that high glycemic index foods increase insulin secretion that in turn increases tryptophan concentration in the brain which is the precursor for serotonin that induces sleep, the second theory is that the high insulin resulted from hyperglycemia could interrupt some hormones secretion such as adrenaline, cortisol, glucagon, and growth hormone. Also, it can stimulate inflammatory immune response and alter the intestinal microbiome leading to sleep disruption. So, you should avoid eating them, especially during the day.
  2. Saturated fatty acids foods: butter, ghee, cheese, fatty cuts of meat, bacon, sausage, and cakes are high in saturated fatty acids that could deteriorate your sleep quality.
  3. Foods that trigger reflux such as acidic foods, onions, tomatoes, garlic, citrus fruits, dark chocolate, and peppermint.

What are the foods that improve your sleep quality?

Foods are natural sources of vitamins and minerals, you can get the best sleep vitamins from your meals especially for those who don’t like pharmaceutical drugs or women who seek menopause sleep problems natural remedies.

  1. Melatonin-containing foods: these foods can directly affect your sleep quality so you can consume them in the night such as goji berries, eggs, milk, fish, and nuts.
  2. Tryptophan-rich foods: tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin that induces sleep. It is an essential amino acid that is found in these foods; milk, canned tuna, turkey, chicken, oats, and whole wheat bread.
  3. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids: scientists in this study found that high omega-3 PUFA concentrations are associated with improved sleep quality. Fish and other seafood, nuts, seeds, and plant oils such as flaxseed oil and canola oil are good sources of omega-3 PUFA.
  4. Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA): it is a neurotransmitter that makes you calm and relaxed, researchers in this study found patients with insomnia who received 300 mg/day of GABA for 4 weeks have increased sleep quality and decreased sleep latency. Foods that are rich in GABA are fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and tempeh, tomatoes, potatoes, and berries.
  5. Vitamin D: it has been found that vitamin D deficiency could lead to sleep disorders such as poor sleep quality and short sleep duration according to this study. Oily fish, liver, egg yolk, and red meat are sources of vitamin D.
  6. Vitamin C: scientists in this study found that high blood vitamin C is associated with deep sleeping so it is considered one of the deep sleep vitamins. Also, fruit and vegetable intake could improve sleep quality. You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits, peppers, lemon, strawberries, guava, and broccoli.

In a nutshell, circadian rhythm sleep disorder is a problem that can affect your health and life negatively. If you suffer any of the previous symptoms, make some lifestyle changes and consider taking a nutritional sleep supplement containing ingredients at the proper dosages proven to be of benefit to people experiencing occasional sleeplessness and to help reestablish healthy natural sleep patterns. For more information, visit MySleepAllNight.com

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