Insomnia, Circadian Rhythm Disorders, and What You Can Do

Although the term "insomnia" is often used loosely to refer to any type of sleeping difficulty, there are a number of other labels that can categorize specific struggles based on the fundamental aberration in the sufferers' sleeping patterns. Specifically, there is a category of "circadian rhythm sleep disorders" that can further be divided into subsets. CRSD conditions affect the timing of when a person sleeps and wakes up. Everyone has a master "clock" in the control center of the brain known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which regulates the body's timing of factors such as temperature and hormone levels. Most peoples' circadian clocks run on a schedule a little more than 24 hours long, and this schedule can be maintained or adjusted based on a number of cues. Light and darkness are the primary motivators keeping peoples' clocks on the right schedule, but there are other cues, known as "zeitgebers" that also influence the timing of peoples' internal rhythms. These include when you eat meals, when and how you exercise, when you drink caffeine and how much caffeine you drink.

Types of Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders

There are many types of CRSD, but a few include:

Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder: more common among teenagers, this sleep disorder occurs when a person regularly goes to sleep and wakes up two hours later than what most people would consider normal. For example, a person might go to sleep after 1 am and wake up in the afternoon.

Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder: this sleep disorder is the opposite of DSPD, and occurs when people go to sleep and wake up two hours earlier than what is considered normal. For example, a person might go to sleep at 8 pm and wake up at 5 am. It is more common older people.

Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm: this sleep disorder is characterized by an undefined sleep cycle that causes a person to experience fragmented sleep, often by taking of a series of naps throughout the day. Sufferers frequently complain of fatigue, and it is more common in children with mental retardation and dementia patients.

Free-Running Type: people who have this disorder have a sleep-wake cycle that shifts later every day. It is common among blind people, those with mental retardation, and dementia patients.

What You Can Do

There are plenty of medications out there that can help regulate peoples' sleep cycles, including a new one that is specifically for blind people who have irregular sleep-wake rhythms. Before jumping to prescriptions, though, consider some of these at-home remedies that can get your sleep back on track:

– Use bright light in the morning to help "set" your body clock and let your brain know that it's time to wake up

– Dim the lights in the evening (including lights from computer and TV screens) to signal to your brain that it's almost time to go to bed. If you work at night, wear sunglasses on your way home from work.

– Keep a regular routine for both meals and exercise to keep your circadian rhythm schedule stable

– Don't drink caffeine after lunch or early afternoon

– If all else fails, temporarily restricting your sleep until you're sleeping solidly the entire time you are in bed can help you maximize the efficiency of your slumber. Once you are sleeping soundly again you can then start to increase the number of hours you spend in bed.

 

Sources:

http://www.aasmnet.org/resources/factsheets/crsd.pdf

http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/reset-sleep-cycle

About the Author:

Iris Stone has worked as a freelance writer since 2011. Her writing has included content on medicine, healthcare, and education, although her interests are wide and varied. Prior to breaking into the freelance biz, Iris worked in sales for a health company and prior to that as an assistant in a chiropractic office. She is currently attending George Mason University and is majoring in Political Science. Check out her Google+ profile.

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