Whether you have heard of your circadian rhythm or not, it affects your day to day life. Your circadian rhythm is the internal process that helps regulate your sleeping habits so that you get tired at certain times and feel awake and alert at others. Your circadian rhythm is an extremely important factor in keeping your body and its main functions on track at all times, as well as ensuring that your day to day life (getting up at a certain time, having enough energy for certain activities, and having the ability to fall and stay asleep) runs smoothly. Because the circadian rhythm is almost always associated with sleep and sleeping habits, you may not have given much thought to what else this process does, and how it can affect you when it is thrown off balance. Throughout this article, we’ll focus on understanding your circadian rhythm a bit better so that you know what it does, how it does it, and how it affects other areas of your life and health, like weight loss.
Circadian Rhythm and Circadian Rhythm Disorder(s): What Are They?
As stated by the National Sleep Foundation, your circadian rhythm is your body’s internal clock that is always working 24 hours a day, every day. It constantly runs behind the scenes in our life, regulating your sleep cycles and helping your feel drowsiness and alertness at roughly the same times each day. Also known as your sleep-wake cycle, your circadian rhythm is kind of the background process that keeps you functioning and ensures you get a certain amount of sleep each night. Traditionally, the circadian rhythms of most humans and animals have been in tune with the natural day/night cycle of the earth. Before modern forms of technology and electricity, people tended to rise with the sun and sleep when it got dark out. Today, most adults find they have roughly the same circadian rhythm cycles in that the lowest point of energy occurs between 2 am and 4 am when they should be fast asleep, and 1 pm and 3 pm, the period after lunch when most people tend to feel a little drowsy after their meal. Of course, these times are not a “one-cycle-fits-all” scenario. Many people are naturally early risers or night owls, allowing for some differentiation in the cycle, while others may sleep better than most, allowing them to the avoid the mid-day slump.
Of course, it is no secret that your circadian rhythm can be thrown off, leading to sleep deprivation and other issues. When your circadian rhythm is off-balance, you are likely suffering from circadian rhythm disorder.
In short, when your circadian rhythm is thrown off, you have a circadian rhythm disorder. However, the type of disorder you have may vary depending on your symptoms, the cause, and the potential cure. There are two common categories of circadian rhythm sleep disorders: intrinsic (meaning internally built-in) and extrinsic (meaning circumstantial). For those with intrinsic disorders, they usually struggle with their internal clock being off from the rest of society or what is considered normal – they may go to bed much later, rise much earlier, or have a fragmented schedule of sporadic naps throughout the day and night. Extrinsic disorders are usually those caused by outside issues such as jet lag, work and school hours, travel, and other uncommon sleep schedules. With this in mind, it is much more accurate to say that there are a variety of circadian rhythm sleep disorders that you may be dealing with. The following are some of the most commonly dealt with circadian rhythm disorders experienced by everyone from teens to older adults:
- Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (DSPS): Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome occurs when a person feels tired later in the nighttime than most people do. This causes them to stay up later than others though they still require 7-9 hours of sleep. This means that they will likely rise later in the morning or even in the afternoon depending on the new cycle they’ve fallen into. The main issue or those who suffer from DSPS is that their melatonin production does not begin until an hour or so later than it does in most people This means that their sleep schedule is perpetually off-kilter from the rest of society, making rising for school and jobs difficult and leading to sleep deprivation. Those who struggle with this circadian disorder are usually at high risk for depression and complain of issues with insomnia and excessive drowsiness in the daytime. Though anyone can have DSPS, it is mainly diagnosed in teens and young adults.
- Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome: Non-24 disorder is also described as a circadian rhythm that is just, plain and simple, way out of sync. This disorder causes people to have a longer sleep cycle than the typical 24 hours most people have. This means that their bedtime shifts every few days, causing them to go to bed and rise at different times each day. In other words, they can’t really set up a rhythmic schedule. This disorder is most commonly experienced by the blind and is thought to be caused by the inability to see the light and dark patterns that occur every day.
- Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (ASPS): Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome is, in some ways, the opposite of DSPS in that it causes people to feel sleepy much earlier in the evening than others. Like DSPS, people require the same amount of sleep as others (i.e. 7-9 hours), which means they are more likely to rise earlier than most. Also, like DSPS, those who suffer from advanced sleep phase syndrome complain of daytime insomnia, excessive daytime drowsiness, and overall insufficient sleep. This disorder most commonly occurs in the elderly but can be experienced by anyone.
- Shift-Work Sleep Disorder: This disorder is pretty self-explanatory in that it is caused by a work schedule that causes the individual to experience insomnia or daytime drowsiness. Usually, those who work night shifts, late evening shifts, early morning shifts, or rotating shifts are the ones who suffer most with this particular disorder. If you work outside of the typical 9 am to 5 pm work schedule, you may be at risk for a shift-work sleep disorder.
- Irregular Sleep-Wake Disorder (ISWD): This disorder is characterized by those who do not have a typical sleep-wake cycle in that their sleep is gained through naps throughout a 24 hour period. Usually, these naps add up to the 7-9 hours most people need to function, but they are accumulated sporadically and no real pattern is set since nap times and lengths vary from day-to-day. Those who have this disorder usually also suffer from insomnia and excessive daytime drowsiness. This disorder is much rarer than the others, but it can occur in persons with certain medical and mental disorders such as brain damage and dementia.
The Link Between Lack of Sleep and Weight Loss
When a sleep disorder is wreaking havoc in your life, it can cause more issues than just sleepiness and insomnia. A major part of getting a good night’s sleep is that it also helps regulate other bodily functions like weight loss, gain, and distribution. When you consistently get poor sleep, you will likely find that it becomes harder to lose stubborn pounds and keep them off. This happens for a number of reasons:
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- When you don’t sleep well, you tend to eat more: Poor sleep impairs decision making, which increases your likelihood of choosing to eat junk food and avoid exercise due to fatigue.
- Poor sleep affects the hormones that control hunger: The hormones that help you feel full (leptin) and hungry (ghrelin) are thrown off balance, causing you to eat more than you should when you’re feeling famished.
- You lose carbon and water weight while sleeping: If you aren’t sleeping well or consistently, chances are this weight stays on, making it harder to lose over time.
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Getting Your Circadian Rhythm Back on Track
When your circadian rhythm is thrown off track, don’t panic. There are ways to remedy this issue. DexaFit is one such place where you can find all sort of solutions to sleep issues and weight problems to boot. The different services offered here and available information are more than enough to help individuals get their sleep cycles back on track and, by extension, their health and weight. Check out a DexaFit near you to learn more.