Our 24x7 nation is wreaking havoc on our sound, restful sleep. We are waking up at 3:00 am to check e-mail, working odd shifts, suffering from jet lag or burning the midnight oil then getting up too early. Even adolescents are overworked and missing out on essential sleep time.
Today’s jam-packed lifestyle is disrupting our circadian rhythm – the internal clock that regulates our biological processes throughout the day and night. Our internal clock operates on a 24.18-hour period, relying on equal cycles of darkness and lightness. When these cycles are out of balance, we can develop circadian rhythm disorders (CRD), which are at the heart of many sleep problems.
Some body functions, such as production of cortisol, thyroid, growth hormones and digestive system activities take place during sleep. When sleep is interrupted, these functions are interrupted as well.
The good news is that we can reset our internal body clocks via behavioral techniques and good sleep hygiene.
Chronotherapy is a behavioral technique used to manipulate the sleep-wake cycle in an attempt to change the patient’s underlying circadian rhythm. For this therapy, the bedroom must be pitch black and silent. The CRD patient is then put on a five-day sleep regimen. If the patient tends to go to bed late, she is instructed to gradually shift the timing of sleep three hours later each day until the usual bedtime of 11:00 pm is reached. If her typical bedtime is 2:00 am, the following night (or morning) she would go to bed three hours later at 5:00 am, and continue this pattern until the desired sleep pattern is achieved.
Bright-light therapy is another technique employed to reset a person’s circadian rhythm to a desired pattern. Early morning exposure to bright light tends to lead to an early wake time and advance sleep onset at night. We recommend either being exposed to natural sunlight – sitting in front of an open window -- or being exposed to halogen light measured at 400 lux for at least one hour in the morning. When combined, cronotherapy and bright-light therapy may produce significant results for people with CRD.
In addition we should practice good sleep habits: