Circadian Rhythm - Pulmonary Associates of the South East is located in  Birmingham, A

Far too often we take the topic of sleep for granted: According to the health report, almost 80% of employees in the US have difficulties getting in or out of bed.

Have you ever thought about why our eyelids get heavy in the evening and open again easily in the morning (in the best case)? This phenomenon also has to do with our sleep-wake cycle. The whole thing is mostly not just a habit! Falling asleep or waking up well is also related to the rhythm of our body. A good regular routine ensures that we are concentrated during the day and even supports our health in the long term.

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What is the sleep-wake cycle?

The “Encyclopedia of Neuroscience” defines the sleep-wake rhythm as a rhythmic alternation between two behavioral states: namely the sleep and wake state. The rhythmic regulation of the alternation between these two states usually relates to rhythms with a circadian period.

In general, the sleep-wake cycle could be described as a daily pattern that determines when we sleep or wake up. Usually, the ideal rhythm consists of 7 to 9 hours of sleep (ideally at night).

This is followed by a phase of being awake between 15 and 17 hours. So sleep is a very central source of our productivity. However, in order to understand how important sleep really is, it is helpful to learn something about the basic mechanisms of the sleep-wake cycle and which bodily functions have to do with it.

How does the sleep-wake cycle work?

As I said, our upbringing or our lifestyle has only a small influence on our sleep-wake cycle. However, this pattern is particularly related to certain processes in our body – these prepare our “system” and thus also protect us.

For example, certain hormones fall or rise during the day. This makes us feel tired or awake. One of the functions of sleep is to ensure that this natural rhythm is adhered to as closely as possible. Which hormones are these exactly?

Chemicals and hormones

The circulation is controlled by the combination of 2 chemicals or hormones.

  • Adenosine and
  • Melatonin

The chemical adenosine accumulates in the blood during the day. The longer we are awake, the more of it is there. During sleep, the level drops again – in the morning the cycle starts all over again.

This is particularly interesting for coffee lovers: Caffeine blocks the adenosine receptors, so it can help us stay awake.

At the same time, the hormone melatonin regulates our rhythm. The amount increases especially in the late afternoon and increases during the night. It only falls off again in the morning. This hormone is also strongly related to the lighting conditions – in winter, when daylight is scarce, the melatonin level can remain elevated during the day. This can also lead to sleep disorders.

What happens if the rhythm is disturbed?

If we don’t listen to our internal clock, our mental and physical performance will suffer. These disruptive mechanisms also include shift work or night work or the well-known jet lag. A good night’s sleep helps you stay safe and sound even when you travel. Irregular sleeping habits have a major impact on our natural rhythm.

In jet lag, for example, the sleep-wake rhythm no longer matches the new time zone. The results are severe fatigue, poor sleep, difficulty concentrating, poor motor control, slow reflexes, nausea or irritability.

The research in this area shows that the sleep-wake rhythm is fundamental to the human biological rhythms. The disruption of this process leads to serious consequences for behavior and performance.

Because this rhythm is just as important for humans, the disorder can have consequences in many areas – but especially in the area of behavior and performance. Similar conditions also occur during rework.

Tips for night owls

Of course, every intervention in the natural sleep-wake cycle is not necessarily beneficial. Here are a few tips that can help if you have to get up at night due to work:

  • Experts recommend bright light when getting up – a light alarm clock can also be useful here, for example.
  • For night workers who only come home in the morning and sleep in the morning hours, it is important to protect themselves from too much light. Blackout curtains are also a must in the bedroom.

This study also shows how central a healthy sleep-wake cycle is. There was a connection between irregularities in sleep or sleep deprivation and the academic performance achieved.

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