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The Science of Sleep: Tuning into Your Circadian Clock

The Science of Sleep: Tuning into Your Circadian Clock

Sleep disturbance is a by-product of doing shift work, notably the night shift. Here is a new perspective on 'Circadian Sleep Disturbance" that may help those who work this shift change the way they look at it.

Anyone who has traveled has experienced jet lag--that groggy realization that while your day is beginning in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the night you just left in Eugene, Oregon is hardly over. Jet lag is an inconvenient reminder that the body is set to a 24-hour clock, known by scientists as circadian rhythms, from the Latin, "about one day."

An internal biological clock is fundamental to all living organisms, influencing hormones that play a role in sleep and wakefulness, metabolic rate, and body temperature.

Disruption of circadian rhythms not only affects sleep patterns but also has been found to precipitate mania in people with bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness).

Other types of illnesses also are affected by circadian rhythms; for example, heart attacks occur more frequently in the morning while asthma attacks occur more often at night in those who are deprived of sleep.

Although biological clocks have been the focus of intensive research over the past four decades, only recently have the tools needed to examine the molecular basis of circadian rhythms become available.

Early studies pointed to an area of the brain, the hypothalamus, as the location of the circadian pacemaker in mammals. More recent findings show proteins called cryptochromes, located throughout the body, are also involved in detecting changes in light and setting the body's clock.

Researchers have found that imposing too early school start times on children requires unrealistic bedtimes to allow adequate time for sleeping.

Early school start times for adolescents are frequently associated with significant sleep deprivation, which can lead to academic, behavioral, and psychological problems, as well as increased risk for accidents and injuries, especially for teenage drivers.

Completing our understanding of biological clockworks will lead to better treatments for diseases affected by circadian rhythm, as well as to methods of coping with disrupted sleep patterns.

I am intimately connected to the joys and perils of Circadian Rhythm Disruption because I work Night Shift--otherwise know as The Grave Yard Shift, as a nurse in a Labor and Delivery unit.

I have been doing this for the past three years plus.

What must you do to survive and take care of yourself if you, too, must embrace the reality of working hours that the majority of people avoid and shun?

1) Commit to taking care of yourself, getting everyone in your household to respect the fact that you must sleep.

2) If you come right home and go to bed, sleep usually comes quickly. So determine to sleep as soon after returning home as you can.

3) People find that if they don't sleep right away, a kind of mania sets in. A sort of phenomenon occurs where memory fades and where you laid your keys may never resurface in your mind--again!!

4)Discover rest, meditation, loving kindness and a gentle approach with yourself and everyone in your life!

5)Sleep aids may not be helpful, as they tend to create a "hangover" effect. I've tried several, but have found that my energy is not in synche afterwards.

6) Make your bed a sanctuary.

7)Think of your bed as a sacred space, where day dreaming can eventually result in changing the world!!

8)Use soothing music, nature sounds, entrainment tapes especially geared for relaxation, and be lulled into a peaceful sleep.

9) Think of sleep as a joyful discipline, and engage in it, knowing that your body, mind and spirit thanks you!!I must emphasize here that I have chosen to work night shift.

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