The body has a 24-hour biological clock, also called its circadian rhythm, that influences our bodily functions and overall state of health. These functions include metabolic rate, secretion and regulation of hormones, blood pressure, body temperature, and the sleep-wake cycle. Getting regular sleep in duration, quality, and time consistency will help the body’s circadian rhythm. Sleep is meant to follow the natural light-darkness cycle. Here are all the ways that your body’s biological clock impacts your daily life.
- It regulates the timing of wakefulness and sleepiness during the day. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a region of the brain in the hypothalamus, controls your biological clock. This circadian rhythm increases and falls at different times of the day. You will usually experience sleepiness during circadian dips, which is usually strongest between 2:00 and 4:00 in the morning. At night, when the circadian rhythm rises, your body secretes the hormone melatonin, which regulates the sleep cycle.
- It is reactive to stress. If you have a lot of elevated stress in your life (worry, frustration, anxiety), this will impact your body’s biological clock. The most important and powerful stress hormone in the body is cortisol. When your body perceives danger, it activates the “fight or flight” system and releases this hormone. When cortisol levels are high, we are alert and energized. If you are constantly stressed throughout the day, this will keep cortisol levels elevated, and make it difficult for the sleep circadian rhythm to function. Psychological stress is not the only type of stress that impacts your sleep-wake cycle. Physiological stress, such as chronic illness, shift work, or extreme temperatures can cause a release in cortisol.
- It can be affected by several different sleep disorders. Circadian rhythm sleep disorders are a family of sleep disorders that affect the timing of sleep. They are caused by the internal sleep-wake system and the light-darkness cycle becoming desynchronized. If you have one of these sleep disorders, you may experience insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness, and fall asleep at unusual times during the day. Individuals affected be one of these disorders have trouble going to sleep and waking up at “normal” times. This impacts work, school, and other social activities.
If you have problems sleeping and are experiencing disruptions in your circadian rhythm, it is critical that you get your body sleeping at regular intervals. For some, using a CPAP machine can help get your body’s biological clock back on track. You can reduce stress levels by engaging in yoga or meditation, listening to relaxing music, doing controlled deep breathing, and maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle. Develop a bedtime ritual in which you stop thinking about any stresses and relax your mind and body in preparation for sleep.
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