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Learn about your circadian rhythm, which is your body’s own internal clock that tells you when to wake and when to sleep. Learn about what it manages and what can influence it.

Your Inner Clock

You’ve just won your favorite game show and the host is about to hand you a large bag overflowing with money. Finally, you will be able to replace that rusted-out thing on wheels and take off to Hawaii! You reach out for the prize and BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP – it’s your alarm! You awake from your dream, only to realize that you have already hit snooze several times, and now it’s really time to get going. Goodbye, Hawaii.

The alarm clock: a necessary evil. After all, we have to have alarm clocks or we would sleep forever, right? No, of course not. Anyone who has been able to go the weekend without setting an alarm knows that you eventually wake up unaided. Why is this?Your body has an internal system to help it move from wakefulness to sleep and back to wakefulness.

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It’s your own biological clock called your circadian rhythm. Coming from two Latin words: circa, meaning ‘approximately’ and dies, meaning ‘day,’ this clock regulates your sleeping pattern over the course of a 24-hour day. The circadian rhythm is mostly comprised of a group of cells called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is located in the hypothalamus.

It turns out that we all have a built in 24-hour day inside of you. Around 9:00pm, the body starts secreting meletonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep. The body stops secreting this hormone at around 7:30am as your body prepares to wake.

After 7:30am, levels of hormones, such as testosterone, rise to help you become alert and active. If you could allow this rhythm to fully dictate your sleep and wakefulness, you would be well rested throughout your day.

Interruptions to Your Circadian Rhythm

Circadian rhythms run on auto without any direction from you. However, there are things that can interrupt your rhythm, such as your desire to catch the 1:00 am performance of your favorite band, being awoken by your neighbor’s annoying barking dog, or having to get up early for work.There are also naturally occurring phenomena that can interrupt or change your circadian rhythm. These are called zeitgebers (which is German for ‘time synchronizer.

‘). Daylight or lack of daylight is considered a zeitgeber. Have you ever noticed feeling tired earlier when winter comes, and it starts getting dark around 5:00 pm instead of 8:00 pm? This is because your circadian rhythm is set to notice the change in daylight and respond accordingly, and it is why it is important to have a dark room when you go to bed, void of lights from any sources (including your laptop, smart phone, etc.) and a window that will allow natural sun to stream in as the sun rises.

Consequences of Continued Disruption of the Circadian Rhythm

An occasional interruption of your circadian rhythm can be tolerated, and your circadian rhythm can be reset when those interruptions cease; however, extended and extreme disruptions can cause severe problems.

Traveling across time zones (especially more than one), working varied and late shifts, being pregnant, having a newborn, and having sleep disorders can mess up the circadian rhythm and lead to fatigue, disorientation, difficulty with thinking, and irritability throughout the day. In understanding that you have an internal clock, it is wise to learn your circadian rhythm and support it as much as possible.

Lesson Summary

Your body has an internal clock called a circadian rhythm. This rhythm regulates your sleep over a 24-hour period. There are external influences that can disrupt or change the rhythm, but given a chance without any more disruptions, it can reset again.

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