Circadian Clock

My partner, Carol has been very ill for three years and the worse time is earlier morning. My sweet sister, Bonnie suggested perhaps her Circadian Clock was out of wack. So my task now is to help her to set it and regulate or change her sleep patterns

Ah, sweet sleep. How we long for it, fight it and need it. Sleep is regulated by two body systems: sleep/wake homeostasis and the circadian biological clock.

I know that sometimes we just cannot fall asleep or even try to go to bed and fall asleep. When we have been awake all day and on into the night for a long period of time, sleep/wake homeostasis tells us that it is time to put it to bed and we have a need for sleep that is accumulating and that it is time to sleep. This silent or pounding call to sleep helps us maintain enough sleep throughout the night to make up for the hours of being awake.

When you are ill and in bed most of the time your clock really gets screwed up. I think that is what has happened to my partner, Carol. Carol or as her friends call her, “Sunshine” lived in Hawaii most of her life and she was always like her name, bright, effervescent and alive. But now that she is very ill and we have realized that when she awakens in the morning it is her worse time. She is under the rock, groggy, not in touch and almost flu like. Now living in an Eastern time zone she is out of sync by six hours as that is what the time is right now in our Kauai home. So here in the morning at 6 am it is midnight in Kauai. Her circadian clock is all messed up.

So other than going back to Kauai we have devised a plan. Perhaps if we stay up more and stay out of bed more and then go to bed earlier she will not awaken under the rock. If we can just push her clock around perhaps those bad times will be when she is asleep instead of when she awakens. It is worth a try. We plan to go to bed early and get a regular plan. We plan to go outside more. Be in the light. Open our blinds, our eyes and our hearts and get in sync with our internal clock. What time is it God? Is it time we were well and happy? I hope so.

Sleep is meant to restore, and heal. If this restorative process really worked well and existed alone, it would mean that we would be most alert as our day begins and sunrise beams us out of bed. It is our starting out time, and that the longer we are awake, the more we should feel like sleeping. In this way, sleep/wake homeostasis creates a drive that balances sleep and wakefulness.

So how does this all work? Our internal circadian biological clocks, regulate the timing of periods of sleepiness and wakefulness throughout the day.

Now all this next information is for those of us who just like to learn how things really work. Boring. ZZZZZ. The circadian biological clock is deep in our head and is controlled by a part of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), which are a group of cells in the hypothalamus that respond to light and dark signals. How do the signals happen? They start from the optic nerve of the eye, light travels to the SCNucleus, signaling the internal clock that it is time to be awake. The SCNucleus signals to other parts of the brain that control how our bodies function and automatic body functions, like making hormones, or regulating our body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us be healthy and well or on the opposite end of the spectrum, feel sleepy or awake kick in. Your internal body clock is calibrated by the appearance and disappearance of natural light in a 24-hour period.

I have read a lot of interesting studies about sleep. I learned that chronic disruption of one of the most basic circadian (daily) rhythms — the day/night cycle — leads to illness and other physiological and behavioral changes, weight loss or gain, impulsivity, slower thinking, In Carol’s case she is perhaps continuing to stay ill and to be kept under the rock in the morning because her internal clock is out of sync.

Opps! Time to reset our clocks. How do you do it? Get out of the bed during the day. Do not stay in bed all the time. Get up. Walk, move, skip, dance, anything to change the pattern. Open your eyes. Turn off the television and computer and other sources of blue light. Take cat naps, or dog naps or any kind of nap if you need to. Get a regular cycle of when you get up and when you go to bed.

When it is time for bed we will really close our eyes and sleep. Perhaps Margaret Wise Brown had the best idea in her book, Goodnight Moon. “In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny. “Goodnight room, goodnight moon.” And to all the familiar things in the softly lit room — to the picture of the three little bears sitting in chairs, to the clocks and his socks, to the mittens and the kittens, to everything one by one — he says goodnight.”

Tonight we are going to say Goodnight Moon and go to bed earlier.

“To sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there’s the rub.” This is a line from the celebrated soliloquy of Prince Hamlet in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. “Sleep” in this sense, here represents death and “perchance” means perhaps. The literal meaning of this quote is that death is a better choice to end the sufferings of one’s life. It implies that last sleep or the unconsciousness or dreamless sleep, after death. That sleep is the only sleep that ends the trials, tribulations, troubles and sufferings in our lives.

We do not ask or seek that sleep and so today our only and best choice is simple sleep and then awaken well. Please God hear our prayer.

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