You have probably heard and even talked about your biological clock but have you ever thought what the term
actually refers to. When people talk about their biological clock, they are actually making reference to their
circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is in charge of coordinating your daily sleep wake cycle. Your body
actually has hundreds of circadian rhythms and these cycles control and coordinate your body's varying temperature,
heart rate, blood pressure, hormone levels, and numerous other factors that allow you to move around comfortably on
a daily basis.
Your circadian rhythm operates on a 24 hour cycle the same as a clock, hence the term biological clock. Your
brain relies on outside influences such as daylight to set your circadian rhythm each day. Our bodies depend on
these external cues to set our internal biological clocks. Any time that your circadian rhythm becomes interrupted,
for example, if you experience several nights of sleep deprivation, your circadian rhythm is thrown out of
Unfortunately, many people are unable to keep a steady circadian rhythm because of their employment. People who
work night shifts are particularly vulnerable to this danger. People who work during the hours of darkness
interrupt their body's natural biological and psychological rhythms. Many of these individuals may eventually
suffer from circadian rhythm sleep disorders.
Other people who are vulnerable to developing circadian rhythm disorders are people who keep very irregular
sleep schedules, those who travel frequently and experience jet lag, and people who simply do not get enough sleep
due to insomnia or other sleep disorders.
When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, not only does your ability to get a restful night's sleep get put at
risk, your immune system is also compromised, making you more vulnerable to getting colds and flu. Your body
becomes more susceptible to weight gain and you are more vulnerable to develop mood swings Your body's digestive
system may also be thrown into disarray.
Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders
A disruption of your circadian rhythm may cause you to become sleepy and fatigued during work hours, and you are
more likely to develop chronic insomnia. It is usually much more difficult to achieve restful sleep during the day.
There are far more interruptions and environmental factors that negate the amount of sleep you can achieve during
the day. Short term disruptions to your circadian rhythm can also cause fuzzy thinking and an overall lack of
clarity. This can result in an increase of workplace accidents caused by fatigue.
The long-term effects of an interrupted circadian system can leave you vulnerable to any number of illnesses and
diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and strokes. You may also be more vulnerable to psychological, mental,
and emotional disturbances.
Shift Work Sleep Disorder
If you are a nighttime shift worker, you can do some things to reduce the adverse effects that such work might
have on your circadian rhythm.
Firstly, you must be proactive in maintaining good sleep hygiene. Good sleep hygiene means that you keep a
regular sleep schedule, waking and retiring at roughly the same time each night. You should strive always to sleep
in a dark, quiet room. If you sleep during the day, you can make or purchase special blackout curtains that will
allow you to mimic the effects of nighttime in your room. Turn off telephones, timers, cell phones plus any other
reminders that it is not really night time. You can use a white noise device or a fan to drown out any external
noise that you may be exposed to while trying to fall asleep.
Once you have established an environment conducive to getting a good night's rest, you should strive to
establish other healthy lifestyle habits that can help you achieve restful sleep. Getting regular exercise can help
you maintain a steady circadian rhythm. Ideally, you should exercise at roughly the same time each day. You should
also strive to eat small, frequent and healthy meals, and to stay well hydrated throughout your work shift.
If you are a nighttime worker, you should avoid over exposing yourself to natural light after your shift is
done. The light will signal to your brain that it is time to wake up. Wear dark glasses or try to get home before
absorbing excessive daylight. This will make it much easier for you to fall asleep once you get home. Also, after
awaking from your daytime sleep, you may want to expose yourself to 30 minutes or so of artificial light. This will
help signal to your brain that its time to wake up.