What is Your Circadian Rhythm
Your circadian rhythm is your biological sleep clock. It regulates sleep and is closely tied to melatonin, the sleep hormone. Your biological sleep clock exists in a part of your brain called the superchiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. It sits right behind the nerves of your eyes, which is ideal for regulating melatonin in response to changes in light.
Thus, circadian rhythm disorders are often in response to your external factors:
- Extreme light conditions
- Extreme dark conditions
- Shift work
- A non-standard sleep schedule that conflicts with your work schedule, such as needing to start work at 7am but getting naturally tired at 2am
Symptoms of circadian rhythm disorders are fairly straightforward: when you want or need to sleep is when you can’t sleep. The result are insomnia symptoms, and sleep deprivation.
What is Melatonin
Melatonin is the sleep hormone that regulates sleep. It is light sensitive in that it responds to changes in light. As darkness transitions to light, your body stops production of melatonin. As light changes to dark, your body increases melatonin production.
When melatonin production is disrupted, such as from excess blue light before bed or alcohol, you disrupt your circadian rhythm. A disrupted circadian rhythm quickly falls down the slippery slope of erratic sleep and can result in:
- Onset of insomnia or like-symptoms
- Increased severity of existing insomnia
Extreme Light and Extreme Dark as Cause of Circadian Rhythm Disorder
Extreme lighting conditions lack transitions in light and darkness that melatonin depends heavily upon for production and stopping secretion.
In constant daylight, such as during the summer in Alaska, may not give your body the cue to start producing melatonin because it doesn’t get dark anywhere from midnight in Juneau to, well, never up north.
Likewise, constant darkness in Alaskan winters can also throw your melatonin production off because it gets dark so early (or is dark all the time) and so your body lacks a natural cue to start producing it.
Whether light or darkness extremes, your circadian rhythm and subsequent sleep schedule can be thrown way off.
Shift Work Sleeping Disorder
Do you work hours outside of the typical” 8-5 work hours? Or do you work many days on and then many days off? If so, then you are like millions of Americans who are considered shift workers. Alaska in particular has many shift workers because of our aviation industry is popular and because we have long summer daylight for construction, fishing, and so on.
Common types of shift work occupations include:
- Construction workers
- Police workers
- Doctors and nurses
- Taxi/Lyft/Uber drivers
- Customer service
Do any of these look familiar?
While shift work can have numerous benefits, such as better pay for similar jobs, it can also have some downsides: namely that there is something called shift work sleeping disorder which is where you develop irregular sleep patterns and sleep deprivation due to your shift work.
Natural Clock and Work Clock Conflicts
Our biological clocks are all different. Some of us are night owls and some of us are morning larks. For many of us, it feels as though we are born this way.
Unfortunately, our natural urges to sleep can conflict with our work schedules. For example, your natural biological sleep clock may be to sleep from 2am to 10am, but your occupation requires you to be at work at 6am. This disconnect can lead to under-sleeping and chronic sleep deprivation.
Combatting this issue is straightforward:
- Find different employment that aligns with your clock
- Do everything you can to get to bed at the required time, even though it’s not in line with your biological sleep clock
If you live in Alaska and your sleep schedule feels continually off – or you can’t seem to establish any kind of sleep schedule – please take this free online sleep test to start your road to a better night’s rest.