Sleep regulates the body and mind. If you get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep at night, you feel mentally alert and physically energetic the next day. If you get too little sleep, you feel dull and sluggish. When sleep loss becomes chronic, your body’s circadian rhythm can be affected, making it difficult to correct sleep problems and return to a normal sleep-wake cycle.
Determined primarily by genes, circadian rhythm is unique to each individual. In each 24-hour period, our bodies go through a natural cycle of increasing and decreasing body temperature and hormone release that trigger our body to sleep or awaken. In most people, circadian rhythm follows the cycle of the sun. Sunlight causes us to wake up and keeps us alert during daytime hours, while darkness slows our activity level and compels us to sleep.
When chronic sleep loss or a night-shift job interferes with our natural circadian rhythm, we feel extremely fatigued and mentally fuzzy. Too often people try to solve their sleep problems by taking sleeping pills or supplements such as melatonin, the hormone that triggers sleep. Taking medications that manipulate hormone levels, unless under the supervision of a physician, can cause even greater interference with the body’s circadian rhythm, not only exacerbating sleep problems, but creating additional health problems.
Natural methods of restoring normal circadian rhythm, such as light therapy and creating good bedtime routines, can help you get your circadian rhythm back on track without drug use.