Our bodies have an internal 24-hour clock that helps to control the timing of sleep by telling our body and mind when to feel sleepy and when to feel alert or awake, at regular intervals. This is called your circadian rhythm, or your sleep/wake cycle. A part of our brain called the hypothalamus is primarily responsible for controlling our circadian rhythm, however many other factors can also influence our body clocks such as:
- Medical conditions (e.g. pain, problems with your bladder, hormonal problems)
- Medications, (e.g. certain medications can act as stimulants)
- Emotional factors (e.g. stress/anxiety/low mood)
- Our daily routine (e.g. what you do and when you do it can impact on both falling asleep and staying asleep.)
- What you take into your body (e.g. what and when you eat and drink, if you smoke, if you take drugs/alcohol).
- Our environment: (Light/Temperature of your surroundings). For example, when it gets dark, your eyes send a message to your brain to tell it to start feeling sleepy and your brain in turn secretes a hormone called melatonin that will help you to feel more tired. On the other hand, a very bright environment will signal your brain and body to make you more alert. In general, this works well because we are usually awake during the day and sleep at night. This is why shift workers can often have lots of trouble sleeping during the day and staying awake at work at night.
It is important to note, that some people who have long term sleeping issues and/or day time sleepiness may be suffering from a sleeping disorder. You may even have a sleeping disorder and be unaware of it. If you have any concerns about this, it is important to talk to you doctor. There are many different types of sleep disorders and they often require specialised medical assessments to help diagnose and treat them. Examples of just some of the more common sleep disorders include:
- Obstructive Sleep Apnoea: Sleep apnoea occurs when your breathing is briefly interrupted when you’re asleep. It causes short breathing pauses throughout the night, jolting you out of your natural sleep rhythm. The most common type of sleep apnoea is called obstructive sleep apnoea. This occurs when your airway is blocked, causing pauses in breathing and loud snoring. It only happens when you are sleeping, so you may be totally unaware you have it, and often it is a partner or roommate that brings it to your attention. The only sign you may have is feeling very tired the next day even if you feel you have slept well the night before.
- Insomnia: Difficulty falling and/or staying asleep.
- Hypersomnia (Daytime Sleepiness): Trouble staying awake during the day. People who have hypersomnia can fall asleep at any time – for example at work or while they are driving.
- Restless leg syndrome: This sleep disorder is characterised by a constant need to continuously move your legs in bed. This is often accompanied by throbbing, itching, pain, cramping or burning in your legs that can be relieved by movement. These symptoms are more prevalent at night, and cause difficulty in falling to sleep.
- Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorders: Circadian rhythm disorders are disruptions in a person's circadian rhythm or body clock. Example: Jet lag from traveling across different time zones, shift work.
- Shift Work Sleep Disorder: Shift work sleep disorder is trouble sleeping because you continually work nights or rotating shifts.
In an upcoming blog on sleep, Kimberley Clarke, Occupational Therapist at Strive Clinic Galway, will discuss practical strategies to improve sleep quality.
A series of workshops called 'Improve Sleep. Improve Health.' will be delivered by Kimberley Clarke, Occupational Therapist at Strive Clinic, beginning on Wednesday January 31st at 7pm and continuing for 3 weeks. This series of workshops will provide you with the knowledge and tools to help improve both your sleep quality and quantity. More information here.
To schedule an individual consultation with Kimberley Clarke at Strive Clinic Galway to assess your sleeping patterns and develop individualised, practical strategies to improve your sleep quality, you can call 091 393 180 to schedule an appointment.