Did you know your body has an internal clock to help you carry out various functions and processes? Different body systems have their own circadian rhythms that are often tied to environmental factors like light and darkness — which is why many circadian rhythms are related to day and night.
The sleep-wake cycle is the most commonly known circadian rhythm and is the one that impacts people with sleep apnea the most.
If you have a circadian rhythm that’s properly aligned, you’re more likely to sleep soundly through the night. But that also means having a circadian rhythm thrown off can lead to sleeping issues that leave you tired and groggy during the day.
As a patient with obstructive sleep apnea, you already struggle to get consistent, deep sleep, which is why you need a circadian rhythm that’s properly aligned.
How Does Circadian Rhythm Impact Sleep?
Your body’s sleep-wake cycle works to signal your brain and body when it’s time to sleep and when it’s time to wake up. Your environment helps align your circadian rhythm and uses signals like light exposure to signify to your brain that it’s time to be alert and awake.
As the shadows lengthen and it gets dark outside, your body’s internal clock recognizes it’s nearing bedtime and produces melatonin to help promote sleep.
If your circadian rhythm gets out of sync, your body’s internal clock won’t send the signals you need to remain alert and awake during the day or generate the melatonin to you need to sleep soundly.
What Throws Off Your Circadian Rhythm?
Small changes to your daily routine can misalign your circadian rhythms. A few of these changes include:
- Too much sleep – If you’ve recently gotten more sleep than usual, your body’s internal clock might get confused. To help keep your circadian rhythm in check, try going to sleep and waking up around the same time each day.
- Travel between time zones – You’ve probably heard of the term “jet lag” when traveling through various time zones — and it’s a real thing! The more time zones you travel through, the more likely it is for your circadian rhythm to get disturbed.
- Excess screen time – Watching TV late into the night or playing on your phone before bed can confuse your circadian rhythm by giving it a false sense of light, signaling to your body that it is still daytime.
- Night shifts – If you work a job where you’re awake during the night and asleep during the day, your body might struggle to adjust.
What Happens When Your Sleep-Wake Cycle Is Off?
If your sleep-wake cycle is off, you’ll find yourself struggling to sleep — and even dealing with more severe sleeping problems. You may struggle to fall asleep, deal with insomnia, waking up multiple times throughout the night, or getting up earlier than your alarm clock in the morning. Because these problems all disrupt your sleeping, you’re going to feel groggy and unrested during the day. Some people are unable to stay awake--even at work.
Recent studies have found a connection between disrupted circadian rhythms and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). OSA is a sleep disorder that makes it difficult for the person to breathe through the night, leading to constant lapses in breathing leaving them gasping for air.
Obstructive sleep apnea impacts the body’s oxygen levels and causes the person to have multiple lapses trying to sleep through the night. By properly aligning your sleep-wake cycle, you’re able to improve the likelihood that you’ll sleep through the night and reduce the side effects of OSA.