Circadian Rhythm Disorders
Circadian Rhythm Disorders (CRD) are disruptions in a person’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is a name given to the human body’s internal clock. This body clock regulates the 24-hour cycle of biological processes in animals and plants. The circadian clock in humans is located in the brain and is significant in determining one’s sleeping patterns. Disruptions of the circadian rhythm may result in getting poor and insufficient sleep. One disruption in natural sleep conditions is night work or non-standard shifts. Working in the evening requires a delay in the body’s sleeping time of as much as three to 12 hours. Because the human body is programmed to sleep at night, changing one’s sleeping time will disrupt and not automatically produce a change in body temperature and other functions needed for bodily coordination and immune responses.
Adequate sleep is essential to one’s overall health. The body needs sleep to rest both the mind and body and to restore energy. Sleep is also the time where the body repairs itself through sleep. During sleep the cells and tissues that have been damaged repair themselves. In addition to these health benefits, the body boosts and builds up the immune system during sleep. The immune system may experience a breakdown that results in different ailments. Medical studies show that sleep seems to help recharge the immune system. However, there are many factors that may hinder individuals from having adequate sleep. Disruptions on one’s circadian rhythm is one factor that may hinder quality of sleep.
Another factor that may disrupt sleep and hamper one’s sleeping pattern is jet lag. It is a condition that is marked by fatigue, insomnia, and irritability that is caused by changing time zones when traveling by air. When travelers pass from one time zone to another, they may suffer from disrupted circadian rhythms. This may cause the traveler’s circadian clock to be mixed up due to a new external environment. People who experience jet lag may have difficulties in maintaining their regular sleep-wake pattern in their new location. This happens because external stimuli like sunlight and location programs and dictates a new pattern. It may take some time for the internal body clock to reset to the new location. It may take just as long for the body to adjust when returning from the trip back home.
Although generally linked to sleep patterns of human beings, the circadian rhythm also has a direct influence on one’s blood pressure and the body’s production of hormones and neurotransmitters. It works together with these internal factors to tell the body things like sleeping time and wake up time. This is a warning that disruptions in one’s circadian rhythms should never be taken for granted. The disruptions of the secretions of hormones and neurotransmitters can have a profound effect on overall health, both mental and physical.
Thanks to modern technology and medicine CRD can be treated based on the kind of disorder that is present. Treatments vary depending on the type of disturbance the individual is suffering from. Therapies are usually combined with sleep hygiene techniques to promote proper sleep. Chronotherapy and bright light therapy are two methods that are used to treat this disorder. Chronotherapy is a behavioral technique where one’s bedtime is gradually and systematically adjusted until a specific bedtime is achieved. Bright light therapy on the other hand is designed to reset an individual’s circadian rhythm to a desired pattern. When properly utilized, these therapies may produce results which are helpful in eliminating CRD and improving one’s quality of sleep.