Biological rhythms govern the functioning of every tissue and organ in your body. The so-called body clock ensures that bodily functions execute on time. The 24-hour cycle that regulates the timing of events like eating, sleeping, and temperature is known as your circadian rhythm. This ensures that important biological activities occur regularly.
Many organisms, including humans, animals, fruit flies, and even bacteria, are governed by circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms in people help to synchronise mental and physical systems all over the body. An example: To match the typical time for a meal intake, the digestive system produces proteins, and the endocrine system controls or release hormones to fit according to a normally scheduled energy consumption timing.
What effect does circadian rhythm have on sleep?
The most common use of the term circadian rhythm is in the context of sleep. One of the most obvious and fundamental examples of the relevance of circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle.
During the day, light exposure triggers the master clock to produce signals that help us stay awake and active by generating awareness. As night falls, the master clock begins to produce melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone and then continues to relay signals that help us stay asleep all night.
Our circadian rhythm links our sleep and wakefulness day and night in this way, creating a steady pattern of restorative rest that allows us to do more during the day.
What Happen when your circadian rhythm is disrupted?
When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, the body's processes are unable to work properly.
Serious sleeping disorders might result from a disrupted sleep-wake circadian cycle. A person may struggle to fall asleep, wake up during the night, or be unable to sleep as long as they desire into the morning if their internal clock is not properly signalled. Their total sleep time may be shortened, and their circadian rhythm may be altered, resulting in shallower, fragmented, and poor-quality sleep.
A misaligned circadian clock can disrupt sleep in a variety of ways, including raising the risk of insomnia and excessive daytime sleepiness. Given the importance of sleep for productivity and overall health, when a person's circadian rhythm is off, there are typically serious implications.
What does circadian rhythm affect apart from sleep?
While the sleep-wake cycle is one of the most well-known circadian rhythms, these 24-hour internal clocks are essential to nearly all physiological processes.
Circadian rhythms are still being studied, some research has linked them to metabolism and weight loss via blood sugar and cholesterol management. Circadian rhythms also have an impact on mental health, including the risk of psychiatric disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, as well as the risk of neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
Circadian rhythms also appear to have a significant impact on the immune system as well as DNA repair processes that are implicated in cancer prevention. In preliminary research, circadian cycles might influence the efficacy of anti-cancer drugs, and new treatments may be able to use biological clocks to destroy cancer cells.
How to know if you have a disrupted circadian rhythm?
You may have a circadian rhythm disorder if your sleep is disrupted and your timetable is wrong. Experts have identified six warning indicators to look out for.
1. You Fall Asleep Early & Wake Up In The Middle Of The Night
You may have Advanced Sleep Phase (ASP) syndrome if you get sleepy and go to bed sooner than most people, then wake up in the middle of the night unable to go back asleep. With ASP, your body clock is moved forward, causing you to go to bed (about 6 to 9 p.m.) and get up relatively early (around 3-4 a.m.). As you become older, this circadian rhythm disturbance becomes more common.
2. You Can Fall Asleep During Weekends, But Not Weekdays
You may have Delayed Sleep Phase syndrome if you have problems falling asleep on evenings before workdays that require an early wake-up, but not on weekends when you can go to bed and wake up later. DSP is the polar opposite of ASP, in which your body clock is reset, causing you to go to bed and wake up late. Adolescents are more likely to develop this problem.
3. Your Sleep & Wake Time Gets Pushed Back A Little Each Day
You may have Non-24 Hour Sleep/Wake Disorder if you go to bed and wake up a little later each day. Because this illness develops when the light fails to convey the necessary signals to the brain, it usually only affects people who have poor eyesight.
4. You Have An Erratic Sleep Schedule
You may have Irregular Sleep/Wake Disorder which is characterised by unpredictable sleep patterns in which sleep is not consolidated at night but is distributed throughout the day and night. People with neurological disorders, such as dementia and ADHD, are more likely to experience this. Chronic insomnia, drowsiness, and scattered naps rather than long durations of sleep are some of the symptoms.
5. You Work Odd Hours
Those who work shifts and work through the night while resting during the day may have sleeping problems. You may have a Shift Work Sleep Disorder if you have trouble sleeping during the day and staying awake late at night when working shifts. This can cause chronic sleep deprivation and accompany by chronic stress, anxiety or depression. During the coronavirus pandemic, key workers, such as those in the healthcare, utility, and transportation sectors, were not only the most exposed to Covid-19 stress, but they were also more likely to suffer from health-related illness and sleep disorders as a result of shift work.
6. You Can't Fall Asleep When You Travel
Most of us are familiar with the feeling of jet lag, which is also a circadian rhythm problem. You may have a Jet Lag Sleep Disorder if you have problems falling asleep after travelling easterly across numerous time zones or staying awake after flying westbound across multiple time zones. Sleeping becomes more difficult as you visit more time zones, but once you return home, your schedule should revert to normal.
If you think you are experiencing any of these mentioned disorders, you may have a disrupted circadian rhythm. While we don't have complete control over our circadian rhythm, there are some healthy sleep hygiene or supplement aid that can help us re-align our 24-hour sleep cycles.