Sleep and body clocks

Author: Canadian Living


Sleep and body clocks

Our internal body clock determines when and how long we sleep.

Dr. Meir Kryger, author of Can't Sleep, Can't Stay Awake: A Woman's Guide to Sleep Disorders joined Balance Television host Dr. Marla Shapiro to talk all about how body clocks work and how lifestyle affects sleeping patterns.

"Basically we have a tiny little gland in the middle of our brains that controls when we sleep and when we are awake as well as many other things," Kryger said. "And many of us are programmed, as it were, to either be night owls (want to go to sleep late) or larks, where we want to go to bed early."

There is a whole spectrum of people out there with their own personal body clocks that are a little bit different, Kryger said, but those are the two extremes.

Kryger explained that there are some people who cannot fall asleep before two, three or four o'clock in the morning. If one of these night owls tries to go to bed at a standard 11 p.m. or so, they simply can't fall asleep. The problem with these people, he said, is that their clocks run late, which means their bodies want to wake up late.

"This problem often begins in people when they're in their mid-teens," Kryger said.

So can you combat your body clock?

"This is basically a characteristic of people. Their body clock is them, it's part of their personality. We can change it, we can give them rules of what they can do to make their patterns more normal, Kryger explained. "But at the end of the day, when they're finished university, when they no longer have the option of taking late, late classes, they have to get real with the world and the best advice you can give someone like that is to find something that's compatible with your own body clock."

The lark is the opposite of the night owl and ends up falling asleep really early. If you try to phone the lark at 9:30 p.m. they may already be sound asleep.

"It turns out that a lot of people who are larks end up with jobs where they have to get up really early in the morning," he said. In those cases, larks have already found the types of jobs they should be in.

Shift work, Kryger said, is a horrendous problem. The reason is that individuals are often trying to work when their brains are telling them to sleep. For many people, he said, it's like being in perpetual jet lag. They may have a week where things are back to normal and then have a week that's really bad.

"No matter how good the schedule is, nothing replaces sleeping when your body clock actually wants you to sleep," Kryger explained.

At some point, he noted, a person working a job in conflict with his or her body clock needs to prioritize the importance of the job with the importance of sound sleep.

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Sleep and body clocks