The entire cycle in the human body that makes the transition from being awake to being asleep and back again to wakefulness is called the circadian rhythm and lasts about 24 hours. Your circadian rhythm helps you achieve normal sleep and waking patterns.

Circadian rhythm disorders refer to problems with the timing of sleep and wake or an upset of your body’s cirdadian rhythm. These include jet lag, shift work disorder, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and advance sleep phase syndrome. These disorders can be devastating to job performance and social life. The good news is that they can often be successfully treated with carefully planned light therapy, medications, and behavioral interventions.

Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms are natural patterns of change in the body over a roughly 24 hour period. Most are due to natural factors, but they can be easily affected by signals in the environment. Light, for example, is an environmental factor which can greatly affect our circadian rhythm.

Circadian rhythms are found in almost all living things, including plants, animals, fungi, and any number of microbes.

Sleep wake cycles and a number of important bodily functions can be greatly affected, such as the release of hormones and changes in body temperature. Abnormal rhythms have been associated with diabetes, obesity, depression, and bipolar disorder.

Traveling across time zones can disrupt your circadian rhythm resulting in jet lag.

Alarm Clock

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

Exhausted Woman with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome

People with Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome usually fall asleep late and have a hard time waking up in the morning in time to get to work or school. Sufferers of circadian rhythm disorders are often referred to as “night owls”.  Most find it impossible to shift their schedule to a more normal pattern, although some people manage to get through the work week with little sleep and attempt to make up for it on the weekend.  Most really suffer and there are long term effects from living this way for any extended period. Their health, ability to function properly, safely, and productively can be seriously affected.

Those who find a way to live and work around their odd sleeping hours or circadian rhythm seem to do fine except for social and relationship problems that often occur, They simply live on a different time clock than the average person, typically going to bed between 2:00 and 7:00 AM and getting up far later in the day than the average person. Those who try to fight it in order to make a living or go to school, live with constant jet-lag-like symptoms.

Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome usually begins in early childhood or adolescence. It is not uncommon for people with this syndrome to develop some type of illness or depression.

Advance Sleep Phase Syndrome

People with this condition usually fall asleep in the early evening and wake up earlier than they would like to in the morning. This syndrome occurs most often in the elderly. Their circadian rhythm is such that they simply must go to sleep far earlier than what would be considered within the normal range. And they awaken in the wee hours of the morning, often between 1:00 and 3:00 AM. Efforts to change this sleep/wake cycle are unsuccessful.

People who suffer from advance sleep phase syndrome often have gastrointestinal problems, muscle aches and pains, ulcers, and a real sensitivity to cold. If you think you might be suffering from advance sleep phase syndrome it would be wise to consult a sleep physician.

Man in Bed Looking at the Clock
Man Working a Factory Shift

Shift Work

People who do shift work, whether switching from day shift to night shift or working nights, struggle with their circadian rhythm as well. Many people have serious difficulty adapting to their new schedule.

When you do shift work, you are living in opposition with your body’s natural circadian rhythm. You may get some relief by maintaining the same bedtime schedule on days off as on work days.

Jet Lag

People who often travel across time zones struggle with Jet Lag which causes them to be excessively tired during the day and experience difficulty remaining alert. Trying to adjust to another time zone throws off a person’s circadian rhythm. Anyone who travels frequently, whether for business or pleasure, and continually suffers from jet lag, may benefit greatly from consulting a sleep specialist for help.

Symptoms of Jet lag

With jet lag you may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Mild to extreme fatigue
  • Inability to fall asleep
  • Waking up too early
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Excessive Daytime Sleepiness
  • Inability to concentrate or focus
  • Malaise
  • Muscle aches
  • Sweating
  • Upset stomach, diarrhea, or constipation
Man at Airport Waiting for Flight

Preventing Jet Lag

  • Get lots of rest before you leave.
  • Avoid caffeine.
  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes in flight.
  • Pack your most comfortable sleeping attire.
  • If you need to stay awake, try eating high protein food.
  • If you need to sleep, try eating carbohydrates.
  • Drink a lot of water before, during, and after your flight.
  • Set your watch to the new time zone before your flight takes off.
  • If it’s daytime where you are going, try to resist any urge to sleep.
  • After you arrive, eat small meals and choose foods that are easy to digest.
  • Move around, do stretching exercises, and get any exercise you can while in flight.
  • Stay in shape; people who are in shape seem to cope better with jet lag than those who are not.
  • If you have advance notice of your trip, try to gradually adjust your schedule of eating and sleeping to the time zone where you will be traveling, to slowly adjust your circadian rhythm.
  • If it is nighttime at your destination, try to get some sleep on the plane. Use earplugs or noise-canceling headphones and eye masks or shades to help you sleep while in flight. Wear your sunglasses while driving to the airport, while checking in, before you take off, and while you are in flight until it gets dark.
  • When you book your room ask for one that is the quietest, away from ice and vending machines, lounges, pools, and rooms that may be rented for parties.
  • If you can’t get to sleep, try a warm bath and make the temperature of the hotel room cooler.
  • Pack your own pillow or any items that may make you feel more comfortable or more at home in your own bed.


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