Thursday, January 27, 2011

Body Clock Secrets to Sleep Easy

A new study released in Scotland shows that by unlocking your body clock secrets to sleep easy will treat other conditions like jet lag and illnesses such as diabetes. Scientist now understand that the body clock works in all forms of life and this new knowledge will help treat health related issues for individuals with out-of-sync internal clocks similar to those suffering from insomnia due to split-shift or night-shift work. Experts believe that jet lag causes metabolic disorders like diabetes, mental health problems and even cancer. Studies have concluded that we share the same 24-hour clock or circadian rhythm with all other forms of living organisms and it dates back to early life on Earth.

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Edinburgh University and Cambridge University worked together with French biologists in a study that showed us the circadian clock controls patterns of daily and seasonal activity from sleep cycles to butterfly migrations to flowers opening. Another study from the Cambridge University’s Institute of Metabolic Science identified 24-hour rhythms in red blood cells for the very first time. This is important because circadian rhythms have always been assumed to be linked to DNA and gene activity, but red blood cells do not have DNA. By furthering this knowledge they hope to learn how the 24-hour clock works and how it is linked to health disorders which will lead to new therapies and treatments for these conditions. This groundbreaking research shows that body clocks are ancient mechanisms and are far more important and sophisticated than previously realized.

Of more than 5300 people surveyed for the Great British Sleep Survey, 37% had some form of insomnia and 24% had other sleep-related problems such as teeth-grinding, sleeping excessively, poor concentration, weight gain or sleep apnea. Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep per night according to the National Sleep Foundation. Unfortunately, lack of sleep due to insomnia which is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep not only can cause health problems, it can be a symptom of a health problem. Hormones, especially in menopause or pregnant women can trigger insomnia. Periods of stress or a major life change can cause reactive insomnia which over time will eventually go away on its own, but if sleepless nights add up and just thinking about going to bed causes stress, this is what’s known as chronic insomnia and should be discussed with your physician.

Another health problem that causes sleep problems is restless leg syndrome which is a neurological disorder associated with unpleasant sensations in the legs causing an uncontrollable urge to move when resting or sleeping. The sensations have been described as burning, creeping, tugging or even insects crawling inside the legs. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to suffer from restless leg syndrome (RLS) than men. The cause is unclear, but seems related to iron and/or a dopamine deficiency. Treatment for RLS depends on the severity of the symptoms. For less serious cases massage therapy or heating pads may relax the muscles. Iron supplements, anti-seizure medication or drugs that mimic dopamine may be required. Drugs that trigger RLS include antidepressants, tranquilizers and over-the-counter (OTC) allergy and cold medications with antihistamines.

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Treating a health problem can cure your insomnia and fix your broken body clock, but what if your insomnia is not health related? What if it is caused by jet lag, Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome (need to sleep longer) or Advanced Sleep Phase Syndrome (sleeping and waking early)? Split-shift of night-shift workers can find it difficult to readjust to a normal night of sleeping. Jet lag is usually a temporary sleep problem and after a few days our body clock resets to it normal rhythm. The longer the distance, the longer it will take to correct itself. Work, education and relationships require constant adaptation of our circadian rhythm. Normally most of us adjust to life changes, but for some sleep problems persist because of a circadian disorder.

Until scientist figure out from their finding how to help fix our body’s internal clock….what can we do in the meantime?

Often a gradual move back to a normal sleep schedule can be achieved by waking earlier or later slowly over a period of weeks can correct the body’s clock. Check with your doctor to see if you need or can take melatonin. Your body produces less melatonin as you age. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and it affects our body’s sleep/wake cycle.

Get as much light as possible. When you wake up, you should get as much bright light as you can as this will tell your brain that it is morning and reset your biological clock. This is the best time of day to get your exercise and get your vitamin D too. If you prefer to stay inside, stay in a well lit room. Your doctor may suggest Bright Light Therapy as it will affect the production of melatonin and can be used at different times of day to alter patterns of sleeping and waking.

According to Dr. Mark Rosekind of Alertness Solutions, if you have messed up your body clock and get sleepy during the day a cup of coffee and a short power nap (20 min) can give you the energy you need to get through the day. Also talk to your doctor about medications you are taking as some contain caffeine and should be taken earlier in the day and not close to bedtime. The content in Body Clock Secrets to Sleep Easy is for information purposes only, intended to raise the awareness of different solutions for your sleep problems and should not be considered medical advice. For medical diagnosis and treatment, please see your qualified health-care professional.
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