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Circadian Rhythm Disorders: Delayed, Advanced, Seasonal Affective Disorder, Shift word, and Jet Lag

Overview of Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Delayed Circadian Rhythm Disorder

With delayed circadian rhythm disorder, the pineal gland in the brain releases the sleep hormone melatonin later in the night than usual. In the morning, the body is still producing melatonin when the body should be waking up – this causes the person to take several hours to feel active and energetic. DCR is marked by a delay of the sleep-wake cycle as it relates to the demands of society. DCR may lead to chronic sleep deprivation and habitually late sleeping hours.

People with DCR commonly have:

• Difficulty falling asleep at night
• Difficulty getting up in the morning
• Decreased energy and alertness early in the day

Bright morning light is the most successful treatment for DCR. The light will speed up the body clock and restore circadian rhythms to their normal function. Because DCR disorders vary with individuals, the treatment schedule needs to be adapted accordingly. A comprehensive sleep assessment and diagnosis will guide clinicians in developing an appropriate treatment plan for each individual.

Advanced Circadian Rhythm Disorder

Circadian Rhythm DisorderWith advanced circadian rhythm disorder, the pineal gland releases the sleep hormone melatonin earlier in the evening causing people fall asleep and wake up earlier than they would like. People with ACR tend to feel tired early in the afternoon, and cannot perform normal function in the evening due to fatigue. Although they tend to have little difficulty falling asleep, people with ACR tend to compress the sleep portion of the daily cycle, and the melatonin secretion stops earlier in the morning, causing ACR sufferers often sleep less than 8 hours per night.

People with ACR commonly have:

• Difficulty staying awake in the afternoon and evening
• Difficulty sleeping in to a reasonable hour
• Decreased energy and alertness late in the day

Bright evening light has been shown to be the most effective treatment for ACR. Evening light slows release of melatonin, which will delay the onset of sleep. This will allow the person to sleep longer, and to have more energy in the late afternoon and evening.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasons can have a profound impact on mood. If you’re vulnerable to the winter blues, you may experience a shift in mood that affects your ability to thrive – this is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is medically recognized as a sub-type of major depression. During the dark fall and winter months, the brain’s control center, the Suprachaismatic Nucleus (SCN) or body clock doesn’t receive the proper stimulus of light. The SCN needs bright light signals to reset itself each day. When it doesn’t receive this signal, it malfunctions and produces the wrong hormones at the wrong time of day. Research shows that without enough sunlight, the brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin, resulting in the symptoms of depression. The darker days also signal the brain to overproduce the hormone, melatonin.

People with SAD commonly have:

• Fatigue
• Carbohydrate cravings
• Weight gain
• Irritability
• Low sex drive

Early morning exposure to light therapy is found to be most effective for SAD. Some patients benefit from using the light in the afternoon as well. Studies have found light therapy to be as effective as medications to treat the depression associated with SAD is many cases. A strict schedule is best for optimal results.

Shift Work

Fatigue among shift workers is an internationally recognized problem across multiple industries. Night workers are just as likely as day workers to perform tasks requiring attention to detail, reasoning, decision-making, and other mental skills. The impact of shift work on one’s overall health is astounding.

Shift workers commonly have:

• Increased distractibility and irritability
• Headaches or stomach aches
• Drowsiness during shift and inability to sleep after shift
• Inattention to minor but potentially important details
• Degraded mental abilities

Clinical research now confirms that bright light can help shift the internal body clock and regulate sleep patterns when used in an individualized treatment plan. With proper treatment, people who work irregular hours can feel more alert, energetic, and, in turn, notice an improvement in on-the-job performance.

Jet Lag

InsomniaJet lag is caused by trans meridian travel across at least three time zones. There are 24 time zones around the world – one for each hour in the day. Until recently, jet lag was dismissed as merely an unpleasant side effect of air travel. New research suggests that it may also cause memory loss, shrinkage of parts of the brain and negative side effects on blood pressure. Jet lag can disrupt more than 50 physiological and psychological rhythms in the body. Unaided, it takes your body 1 day per time zone to readjust. It may take 2 to 3 weeks to completely realign your rhythms.

Jet lag suffers commonly have:

  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Altered bowel habits
  • Dehydration

Recent clinical research demonstrates that in only 2 days your body clock can be reset to your new time zone with properly timed exposure to sufficiently bright light. With proper use of light therapy, your energy, mood, concentration, and sleep patterns can all be reset to your new time zone.