Circadian Rhythm: Sleep, Jet Lag, and More

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

What is Circadian Rhythm?

Circadian rhythms respond to dark and light signals that affect mental, physical, and behavior that revolves around 24 hour cycles.

Circadian rhythms are found not only in humans, but also in animals, plants and many other living things. Chronobiology is known as the study of circadian rhythms.

Without getting into all the complicated aspects of body chemistry, the circadian rhythm regulates the body, and when it needs to be active and when it needs to rest. A major function of the circadian rhythm is to regulate how much sleep a person needs.

A Latin based word, circadian rhythm loosely translates to mean “approximately a day”.

Causes of Circadian Rhythm

Circadian RhythmImage source: halotracker.com

Many factors can disrupt the natural circadian rhythm, and they include, but are not limited to: pregnancy, medications, jet lag (time zone changes), shift work, age and severe changes in routine.

How to Treat* (or rebalance) Your Circadian Rhythm?

A healthy circadian rhythm is achieved by sunlight, if you find that you are feeling sad or down in the dumps for no reason – it may be that your body is telling you that it desires sunlight. Simply opening drapes or blinds in your home to allow in natural sunlight may be all that it takes to rebalance your circadian rhythm.

Keeping a regular schedule, especially going to bed and getting up at the same time will also be helpful in keeping your circadian rhythm in balance.

Is Circadian Rhythm and Biological Clocks the Same Thing?

No, the biological clock and circadian rhythm are not considered to be the same, but they work closely with each other. Our biological clock is the driving factor behind the circadian rhythm.

What are Biological Clocks?

The biological clock is a system that is known to control circadian rhythms (the behavioral cycles that occur during a typical day).

The biological clock is located in the pineal glands in many birds, but in mammals it is located in the brain where the optic nerves meet.

The “master clock” synchs all of the body’s clocks, so that they are working together in perfect harmony.

Is There a Genetic Component Associated With Circadian Rhythms?

Researchers have identified genes in mice, fruit flies and people that have a direct impact on circadian rhythms.

As the study of genes continues, it helps researchers more deeply understand the workings of the entire human body, and how all the systems work in conjunction with each other.

Does Body Make and Create a Circadian Rhythm?

Yes and no. There are natural body factors that help set your personal circadian rhythm, but environmental signals also play a significant role in circadian rhythms. Light (whether natural or artificial) has a great influence on controlling your internal clocks.

How This is Related to Jet Lag and Sleep in General?

Jet lag occurs in travelers when their circadian rhythm is thrown off balance. For instance, when you fly from California to New York, you will “loss” 3 hours. So when the clock says it is 7AM, your internal clock still believes it is 4AM, and this messes up your sleep schedule. Over a few days, this imbalance will reset itself.

What are The Experts Saying About Circadian Rhythm?

The study of how circadian rhythms work helps researchers to find effective treatments for jet lag; many sleep disorders, and other health issues.

Circadian rhythms have a direct influence on cell regeneration, body temperature, appetite and hormone production.

Melatonin, a hormone in the brain that regulates a normal circadian rhythm is one of the latest scientific discoveries. If your sleep cycle has been “off”, and you find yourself waking up often during the night, it might be worth having your levels of melatonin checked.

How Can Circadian Rhythm Disorder be Prevented?

Some behavioral treatments for preventing circadian rhythm disorder may include:

1. Chronotherapy:

This type of behavioral adjustment is gradual, and the main purpose is to reset the time you go to sleep and awaken, so that it becomes a natural habit.

2. Bright Light Therapy:

This type of therapy has been proven to be effective in many individuals that have a disorder related to an imbalanced circadian rhythm. Based on your symptoms and personal needs, a professional sleep therapist will provide you with the length of time, strength of light and the time of day that is most appropriate to use bright light therapy.

3. Enhancing* Environmental Cues:

Keeping an area well-lit during the day and dark, cool and quiet during the evening (when you are ready to go to sleep) will help your body and mind readjust, and in turn keep your circadian rhythm in balance and regular. It is also encouraged to keep a regular eating schedule as much as possible.

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Author

Expert Author : Kelly Everson (Consumer Health Digest)

Kelly Everson is an independent editor, an award-winning writer and an editorial consultant in the health and fitness industries. Currently, she is a contributing editor at Consumer Health Digest.