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How To Optimize Your Natural Sleep Rhythm

Sleep is essential, and getting good sleep is achievable through the understanding of what is known as your circadian rhythm. A circadian rhythm is something that all living things, not just humans, are born with. If you are trying to adjust to a new sleep schedule, you may need to learn how to adjust your circadian rhythm as well. 


Your Circadian Rhythm 


According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, a circadian rhythm is a series of mental, physical, and behavioral changes that happen over a 24-hour cycle. Your circadian rhythm can vary depending on what you are used to and how you tend to operate, but most follow the same pattern in sync. For example, most people wake at some time in the morning, but may not feel truly “awake” until about 9 or 10 AM. Many operate efficiently until about 1 PM, when they hit a lull and begin to feel tired. 


Some factors that can affect your circadian rhythm include:


  • Light and dark – Light has a huge influence on the circadian rhythm of all living things, and many species are active when it is light out. Those with a circadian rhythm that has adapted to dark often have abilities to see or navigate in the darkness. Humans can adjust their circadian rhythm to operate best in the dark as well, like when a person gets used to working second or third shift hours. 


  • Biological clock – Your biological clock is the natural timing device that helps you to wake up and fall asleep at similar times each day. Your biological clock is made up of proteins that are found in almost all your organs and can even be hereditary. This differs from person to person, but you can be born with a biological clock that is different from others in your family. 


  • Master clock – Your master clock is a combination of signals sent to your brain and a cluster of over 20,000 nerve cells or neurons. This is also called your suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). Your SCN receives light signals from your eyes to your brain, helping to formulate your master clock’s timing and stimulate different reactions. Your master clock can be manipulated as well. 


For example, those living in Alaska have different light exposure than those living in Florida. During the sunny summer season, those living in Alaska may sleep less but still feel rested because their master clock gives them sleep signals in shorter periods, allowing them to sleep more deeply. 


  • Your genes, hormones, or overall health – Researchers have isolated the gene that controls our circadian rhythm by studying fruit flies, which have a similar genetic makeup to humans. They learned that mutations in this gene or our hormones can cause certain sleep disorders or affect one’s circadian rhythm in a number of ways. A person’s natural hormone release, especially in the case of the hormone melatonin, can also affect their circadian rhythm. 


If this hormone release is affected by physical or mental health issues, it can affect your circadian rhythm as well. For example, some who suffer from depression report sleeping for longer periods of time than people without depression. 


Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule


If you need to adjust your sleep schedule due to a change in work or simply to get back on track with a “normal” sleep routine, there is help available to you. As you learn about your circadian rhythm, think about what your natural pattern is. For example, if you sleep in late most days, do you sleep in complete darkness with the shades drawn? If so, your body may not be getting the light signals you need in the morning to help you feel more awake. 


If you work or attend school in a place without windows, this can also affect how tired you feel in that environment. Adversely, if you are someone who wakes early and wishes they could sleep in, does sunlight fill your room? Are there lights on in your sleeping space? Adjusting your sleep environment and schedule can help you get back into a normal sleep routine. 


Here are a few ways to get started: 


  • Identify your time zone when you travel. When should you be sleeping in your new location?
  • Sleep in the dark and expose yourself to natural sunlight in the day. 
  • Try not to take naps after 2 PM, and try to limit the time of your nap to less than 30 minutes.


Some sleep problems are caused by more than an off-kilter circadian rhythm. For example, some people have mutations in their circadian rhythm genes that can cause all types of sleep problems. Those who suffer from sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or other sleep ailments often find themselves frustrated with how their circadian rhythm is affecting their life. If you need to adjust your sleep, talk to your doctor about your sleep habits to see if there is a diagnosis or solution that can help you optimize your natural circadian rhythm. 


Getting the proper amount of sleep can be difficult for those who suffer from addiction or are in recovery. After all, the brain changes significantly when it is impacted by addiction and/or mental health issues. This can also dramatically affect your circadian rhythm, making it hard to find a balance where your circadian rhythm matches what you need to do throughout the day to function effectively. Many who have problems with their circadian rhythm will turn to substances, like stimulants or depressants, to try to create the desired circadian rhythm effect. This is dangerous, but with the help of professionals it can be avoided. At RECO Intensive, we understand how sleep and your sleeping routine can change your life. Our professional staff and experienced alumni can show you how to create a sleep schedule that works as you go through treatment and give you many other tips for success in RECOvery. Call us at RECO Intensive today at (561) 464-6533. Let’s get back to a brighter future.

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