Sleep and Circadian Rhythm Disorders

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The human body has an internal clock, often referred to as the biological clock, which helps to keep all bodily functions in sync with the 24-hour cycle of every day that passes.

Many functions in the body highly depend on this cycle, including the release of certain hormones, cellular regeneration, and more. This entire process is referred to as circadian rhythms.

These cycles play a significant role in the maintenance of overall health – our body relies on the increase and decrease in certain functions to assure a good harmony at a molecular level.

Essentially, the circadian rhythms in the human body correspond to the external environment you live in. The goal is to bring the internal biological clock in sync with the external environment, creating a synchronization that helps us become sleepy when the sun is down and wake up when the sun comes up again.

When problems develop with the circadian rhythms of the human body, then you become prone to developing health problems due to impairments that occur with the functions that are dependent on a healthy 24-hour cycle. You also become more likely to develop certain diseases.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders refer to a disruption that occurs with the biological clock, or the circadian rhythms, in a patient’s body. This can lead to the development of different sleep-related disorders and can have a significant impact on a patient’s well-being and daily life.

Causes Circadian Rhythm Disorders

There is a number of different factors that can contribute to the development of Circadian Rhythm Disorders. In fact, any elements that cause interference with a patient’s sleep-wake cycles can lead to a disruption in their biological clock, which can lead to the development of these diseases. 

Since there are different types of Circadian Rhythm Disorders, it is important to look at their potential risk factors and treatments individually to identify the particular type of disorder that a patient may be suffering from. Some of these sleep disorders tend to occur more frequently in teenagers and a younger population, while others have a higher prevalence amongst the elderly.

Individuals who are not exposed to regular time cues, as well as those who suffer from blindness, are also more likely to suffer from these conditions. Additionally, Circadian Rhythm Disorders can also be caused by traveling and having to work in shifts.

Common Circadian Rhythm Disorders

Circadian Rhythm Disorder is not a term used to describe a single sleep disorder or condition, but rather a complete category of disorders that can affect a patient. Some of the most common types of Circadian Rhythm Disorders that are found in the general population include:

  • Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase
  • Advanced Sleep-Wake Phase
  • Irregular Sleep-Wake Rhythm
  • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Rhythm
  • Shift Work
  • Jet Lag


sleep snd circadian rhythm disorders diagnosis

Diagnosing Circadian Rhythm Disorders is not a simple task and needs to be done through a series of different tests. 

Most physicians will start by asking the patient a series of questions to help them understand the current and past sleep-wake patterns of the patient. This will help the physician get a better understanding as to whether a disruption may be present in the circadian rhythm of the patient. Certain tools can also be useful in the diagnosis of Circadian Rhythm Disorders. An Actigraphy is often very useful, which is a device worn by the patient over the course of several days to get a better overview of their sleep-wake cycles.

Some physicians may also ask the patient to keep a sleep diary with them to assist with obtaining a further analysis of the patient’s sleep-wake cycles. All of this information needs to be studied and taken into account in order for the physician to make an accurate diagnosis.

How are Circadian Rhythm Disorders Treated?

There are different types of treatments that may be provided to a patient diagnosed with a Circadian Rhythm Disorder.

Lifestyle changes and improvements to their sleep hygiene are often recommended. Bright light therapy has shown promising results in some patients who suffer from some types of Circadian Rhythm Disorders.

There are also certain types of medication that can be used to help induce better sleep or stimulate the patient’s wakefulness. Taking melatonin based sleeping pills at precise times and doses may alleviate the symptoms of some circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

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