Tag Archive for: sleep hygiene

family with children

family with children

Childhood and adolescence are among the most important stages of any person’s life. And while this probably isn’t news to you, it bears repeating. The amount of growth and development the body experiences during these periods of time are astounding. Simply put, the body changes during childhood and adolescence—a lot.

During childhood and adolescence, it can even seem like the body is constantly in flux. The changes come so rapidly that it may be difficult to monitor your child’s health—both physical and mental. Whether you’re a parent searching for facts and tips about your child’s health or a teen looking to read up on your health, you’ve come to the right place! After all, what better place to start than the basics?

The list below breaks down some of the most important (and interesting) facts about childhood and adolescent health.

1. A fast metabolism doesn’t mean you can forget about nutrition:

Adults often bemoan the fact that metabolism slows with age. That is, the body becomes less quick and efficient at breaking food down and turning it into energy the older it gets. So while children and teens can—and often do—scarf down four bowls of pasta without immediate consequences, that same amount of food might have lasting effects on an adult (and their waistline).

This fact leads many people to believe children, especially teenagers, can eat just about anything while maintaining their health. Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly true. Children and teenagers can eat a lot of food, but that’s because the body is doing a lot of growing. That means it requires a lot of energy. And to provide it with the energy it needs, good nutrition is key.

The fundamentals of good nutrition stay the same from childhood to adulthood: you should strive to eat a well-balanced diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, plant-based fats, and quality, lean protein.

2. Teens and children should steer clear of adult beverages—and not just alcohol:

It goes without saying, children and teens shouldn’t drink alcohol. While the brain is still developing, alcohol consumption can have lasting, negative consequences. That being said, alcoholic beverages aren’t the only drinks to keep away from teens.

As of 2014, the CDC reported that 73 percent of children consume caffeine daily. While children under the age of 12 should avoid consuming caffeine altogether, teens can drink small amounts of caffeine without impacting their health. Here’s the problem: the amount of caffeine teens take in depends on what they’re drinking. And energy drinks are popular among teenagers.

Teens 14-17 years old are advised to consume no more than 100 milligrams (mg) of caffeine each day—roughly one strong cup of coffee. Some energy drinks contain triple that amount of caffeine in one can. And many teens are drinking multiple energy drinks a day. You don’t have to be good at math to know that is way, way over the recommended limit.

So why does this matter? Children and teens are physically smaller than adults, so they feel the effects of caffeine much more strongly than, say, most people working office jobs. What’s more, teens’ brains are still developing and maturing. Caffeine can also disrupt teenagers’ sleep cycles—and sleep is a crucial time for brain development. In extreme cases, excessive caffeine intake can even put teens’ hearts at risk.

3. Sleep is a vital aspect of teen health and wellness:

Ask nearly anyone how much sleep you should get, and they’ll likely give you the same answer: eight hours. And while eight hours is a good guideline for adults, the recommended amount of sleep for healthy teenagers is between eight and 10 hours.

Between the demands of school, work, friendships, and other relationships, it can be hard for teenagers to prioritize sleep. But here’s why it’s important: Sleep plays an important role in pretty much every neurological process and function—memory, risk assessment, processing sensory input, you name it. And as a teen, your brain is still developing and making neural connections. Sleeping enough is crucial to allow those connections to be made.

4. Sunscreen is no joke:

While sunburns may seem like no big deal in the moment, they can have lasting impacts on your health. Excessive sun exposure—whether it’s frequent sunburns, extreme sunburns, or even too much tanning—can lead to premature aging of the skin. This means seeing wrinkles younger in life, and, in some cases, increased risk for skin issues.

This doesn’t mean staying out of the sun entirely. You can still go to the beach, swimming pool, or take a long walk on a sunny day—just be sure to wear sunscreen. And not just any sunscreen. The higher the SPF rating, the better.

As a guideline, 15 SPF is appropriate for daily wear, but for extended periods of sun exposure, you should aim to wear 30 SPF sunscreen or higher. And don’t forget to reapply every two hours, as needed!

5. Take care of your ears:

No, seriously. Ear health may seem like a strange topic to talk about, but it’s no joke. And it’s one of the most frequently overlooked aspects of adolescent health. With the proliferation of affordable smartphones, earbuds, mp3 players, and headphones, virtually everyone can listen to music anywhere.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But here’s the problem: teens and children (and even adults) often don’t understand the risks of listening to loud music for prolonged periods of time. And, as a result, many teens listen to music at dangerously high volumes. Blasting music through your headphones or earbuds will damage the cells in your cochlea, increasing your risk for hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). So take care of your ears while you’re young—future you will be grateful!

6. Teens should exercise regularly:

When it comes to adult health, consistent exercise is one of the most oft-cited aspects of a healthy lifestyle. Similarly, exercise is a vital element of teen health.

You’ve probably come across a variety of suggestions for how much exercise teens should do: 30 minutes daily, 30 minutes six times a week, 60 minutes three times a week—you get the idea. If you average out these various suggestions, here’s the bottom line: teens should get somewhere between 180 and 210 minutes of exercise each week. This could be swimming, cycling, going to dance practice, walking the dog—it doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are revving your heart rate up.

While regular exercise will help keep your body healthy, the benefits aren’t purely physical. Regular exercise can help teens with mood regulation, alleviate stress, and get better sleep. All good important aspects of adolescent health.

7. Dental health is health, too:

As a teen, it’s easy to feel invincible. Your body bounces back from most injuries and your brain hasn’t fully developed its risk-assessment abilities. This combo can lead teens to make some, well, rash decisions. It can be hard to see the big picture.

When it comes to dental health, however, it’s all about the big picture. Once your baby teeth fall out, you have one set to last the rest of your life— so it’s important to take care of them. Ask adults what they wish they’d done differently in their teens and twenties, and many will give the same answer: they wish they’d taken better care of their teeth.

Dental health doesn’t have to be complicated, but it requires consistency. Be sure to brush and floss at least every night and you’ll keep your oral health thriving for the years to come.

8. It’s never too early to prioritize mental health:

One of the most common misconceptions about mental health is that only adults suffer from these kinds of issues. While early adulthood is a very common time for many mental health challenges to emerge, anyone, no matter their age, can experience change in mental health. In fact, one in about five teens has a diagnosed mental health disorder.

So what does this mean for you? Whether you experience mental health challenges or not, it’s never too early to prioritize your mental health. For teens, this might mean taking a break from social media, seeing a therapist, and, in some cases, taking medication prescribed by your healthcare provider. It’s all about finding what works for you and not waiting until adulthood hits to address any issues.

Nothing can ruin your day like a restless night. You go to bed exhausted, hoping for some sweet rest and recuperation, only to toss and turn for hours. And then you wake up, somehow even more exhausted. It’s an awful feeling.

After one of those nights, you might notice that your vision, hearing, and other senses feel a little, well, off. So what gives? Why does a poor night’s sleep affect your senses?

Sleep is an incredibly complex part of life, though it may not appear that way. Scientists are still trying to reveal a more complete picture of sleep’s vital role for the human body and brain. But there’s already a wealth of research on the subject out there. And some of that research explores the connection between sleep and the senses.

As it turns out, this connection between sleep and the senses is a two-way street—or maybe even a multi-road intersection. Poor sleep can reduce the acuity of the five senses, but the five senses can also be responsible for a bad night’s sleep. And, conversely, you can sleep better using your senses with just a little bit of planning.

The Physiology of Sleep

It’s only in the last 70 years or so that scientists have come to realize that sleep is not a passive activity—at least not on a neurological level. While you sleep, your brain is actively engaged in various activities that help your brain and body function properly.

There are two types of sleep: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM). Sleep is further broken down into stages. During stages one through three, known as quiet sleep, you experience NREM sleep. It’s only in the fourth stage, sometimes called active sleep, that REM sleep starts.

The exact nature of each stage of sleep and the brain’s activities during each is still up for debate. But here’s what is known: sleep plays a critical role in solidifying and compiling memories. Without sleep, you’ll likely find it more difficult to remember things. Originally, memory compilation was thought to occur during REM sleep. Recent studies, however, indicate that NREM sleep might be more critical in maintaining healthy memory function.

Lack of sleep can also affect brain plasticity—or the brain’s ability to process new information and input. This is where sleep, or lack thereof, can start to impact your senses. Your senses are simply stimuli picked up by various receptors and interpreted by your brain. If your brain plasticity decreases, it responds more slowly to that sensory input. And the interpretation side of sensation slows.

Sleep and the Senses: What Happens When You Get Too Little Sleep?

As you just read, the less you sleep, the more your brain plasticity decreases, which can affect your senses. But what does that look like in practice? How exactly are the senses affected?

Let’s start with vision. Everyone knows that driving drowsy is dangerous. But, as it turns out, falling asleep at the wheel isn’t the only danger. In a study conducted on long-haul truckers, researchers tried to measure the effects of sleep deprivation on vision.

After 27 hours without sleep, participants responded to a series of visual stimuli. The results were about as expected: In their sleep-deprived state, the participants reacted more slowly to visual cues and they missed more cues than when they were well rested. This had nothing to do with eye function, however. The researchers conducting the study realized that participants’ vision impairment was all due to issues on the cognitive side. That is, participants weren’t seeing any worse; their brains were just interpreting more slowly and less fully.

When your brain’s ability to interpret input slows, it doesn’t just affect vision—it extends to all of the senses. In a sleep-deprived state, you might notice you react to auditory stimuli (or sounds) more slowly. And the mental fog that accompanies sleeplessness may begin to encroach on day to day tasks.

Keep Your Senses Sharp With a Good Night’s Sleep

At this point, you’ve hopefully picked up on one main fact: poor sleep can have a negative effect on the acuity of your senses. But let’s move past the negative and focus on action and self-improvement. This raises a new question: how can the connection between sleep and the senses be used to improve your senses?

Well, if you’re basing your answer on the past few sections of this article, the answer is pretty clear: to keep your senses sharp, be sure to sleep enough. This, of course, is easier said than done.

Fortunately, when it comes to sleep, you can use your senses to your advantage. With a few intentional practices, you can leverage sight, sound, smell, and touch to sleep more soundly. But more on that later!

Are Your Senses Working While You Sleep?

Even while you’re asleep, your ears are hard at work. That’s why loud noises will jolt you awake. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense. If your body and senses completely shut off during sleep, you would be incredibly vulnerable. There would be no protection from predators.

Instead, your ears are constantly scanning for potential threats. And, even while you sleep, your brain is actively interpreting auditory stimuli, deciding what is relevant and what is not. (Which is why you might wake up to your baby’s cries, but not your air conditioning unit chugging away.)

Your ears aren’t the only sense organs at work while you sleep. If someone turns on the lights, there’s a good chance you’ll wake up—that’s because your eyes are still taking in visual information, even while your eyelids are closed. The same is true of your sense of touch and even smell.

So what does this mean for you and your sleep?

Sleep Better Using Your Senses

When it comes to sleep, most people focus on the moments leading up to it. And while there is a lot you can do before you fall asleep, you can also take advantage of the fact that your senses are still operating while you sleep to promote sound, restful nights of sleep. Here’s how you can sleep better using your senses:

  • Sight: When it’s time to sleep, your body begins to release the hormone melatonin. But how does it know when to do this? It’s part light cues and part circadian rhythm—which is just a fancy way of saying your body’s internal clock. As the sun goes down and the world gets darker, the body naturally begins to release melatonin.
    Here’s the problem: the sun isn’t the only source of light in your life. And there’s a good chance you don’t turn the lights down until you’re settling in for the night. You may have better luck falling and staying asleep if you dim the lights in the hour leading up to your bedtime. Try to avoid any bright lights. And yes, that includes your TV and phone screen.
  • Sound: Obviously, a quiet environment is the most conducive for sleep. You may not realize, however, all of the noises present in your life. Whether it’s the sound of traffic from outside or your AC unit in the window, the noises that fade into the background while you’re awake can interrupt your sleep. To counteract this, consider soundproofing your room or turning the AC off at night.
  • Smell: Many people find that certain smells, such as the scent of lavender, help relax them. By exposing yourself to these smells, you can help yourself unwind before bed. Stress is a big culprit for restlessness, so the more you can relax before bed, the better you’ll sleep.
    There is some evidence that suggests these scents cannot only help you fall asleep, but also stay asleep. If you use a diffuser, consider leaving it on all night.
  • Touch: For many people, especially those who regularly toss and turn with anxiety, weighted blankets provide a big benefit. The physical sensation of weight on your body can have a calming effect, helping you both fall and stay asleep.
  • Taste: Chamomile tea has been used to help support healthy sleep for years—and with good reason. Studies have shown that chamomile contains the flavonoid apogen, which can have mild sedative effects. This can help you feel relaxed and, in turn, help you fall asleep.

None of these suggestions are a fix-all solution. Some may work for you, others may not. The point is not to make huge lifestyle changes. Instead, simply try being more mindful of your senses and the way they affect your sleep. And as you do that, intentionally try a few of these practices out. Hopefully your sleep will thank you!

Waking Your Senses Up in the Morning

You’ve woken from a good night’s sleep—now what? In the morning, you’ll likely want to shake off the drowsiness and start your day. Once again, your senses (especially sight) can help! Rather than keeping the curtains drawn and avoiding the sunlight, try to introduce some more light into your mornings. This will help suppress the release of melatonin, waking you up faster.

Additionally, you don’t want to overload any of your senses immediately. Take it easy at first, being mindful of your senses and surroundings. Smell your coffee, and allow the scent to seep in. Savor the flavors of your breakfast. Slowing down a little bit in the morning can help you gear up for a productive day.

Think back to the last time you experienced silence. Was it in the woods? Maybe it was on a flight with your noise-cancelling headphones on. Regardless of the setting, one fact is almost certain: it wasn’t truly silent.

Whether it’s the hum of a refrigerator, the chirping of birds, or the faintest ruffling of leaves, there’s always some sound to break the silence. Noise is virtually impossible to escape. It’s just a fact of life.

Sound is so constant that most people don’t think too much about it. Some noises are more pleasant than others, but beyond that it’s all just, well, noise. But sound isn’t just a question of pleasant and unpleasant—it’s also a question of healthy and unhealthy.

Now before you run off to make your life as quiet as possible, let’s get one thing straight: not all noise is bad. Understanding the links between sound and health will help you keep the negative noise in your life to a minimum, while enjoying all the benefits of music and other positive sounds.

So put those ear plugs back in the drawer (for now) and keep reading!

The Physiology of Hearing

Any discussion of sound and noise should start with hearing. And to talk about hearing, you have to talk about ears.

The ear is divided into three portions: outer, middle, and inner. Each plays a vital part in transforming sounds from your environment into electrical impulses that your brain can interpret. A sound’s journey starts in the outer ear, which includes the visible portions of the ear on the head (aka the auricle or pinna), as well as the outer ear canal.

The auricle works like a funnel. It captures sound waves from your environment and brings them into the ear canal. Once they’re in the canal, the waves are amplified as they are channeled to the eardrum. And that takes us to the middle ear.

The eardrum, or tympanic membrane, is a layer of connective tissue and skin that separates the outer ear from the middle ear. When sound waves hit the eardrum, it begins to vibrate. Those vibrations cause a series of tiny bones, collectively called ossicles, to move. As these bones move, they amplify the sound waves.

A sound wave’s journey ends in the inner ear. That’s where the waves are channeled into the cochlea, a fluid-filled, spiral-shaped organ. The sound waves set the cochlear fluid into motion, which in turn moves thousands of nerve endings. These nerves convert the vibrations of the sound wave into electrical impulses that are then relayed to, and interpreted by, the brain.

If this seems like a complicated process, that’s because it is! And there’s a lot that can go wrong—especially when loud noises are involved. But, as it turns out, the negative effects of certain noises extend far beyond the physiological process of hearing.

Noise Pollution: The Woes of City Living

If you live anywhere near a city, you’re probably familiar with the concept of light pollution. Noise pollution, on the other hand, is talked about far less. But its effects are just as widespread—and the health risks it poses are far greater.

So what is noise pollution? In short, it’s the long-term presence of dangerously loud noises (usually in urban areas).

The definition above requires some unpacking. For starters, what qualifies as a dangerously loud noise? Sound intensity, or volume, is measured in decibels. The hum of a refrigerator, for instance, clocks in at roughly 40 decibels. An air conditioning unit, 55 decibels. In the United States, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (commonly called OSHA) requires employers to implement hearing-protection programs if a workplace is louder than 85 decibels.

But you don’t have to operate a jackhammer for a living to be regularly exposed to sounds over that 85 decibel threshold. In certain cities in India, traffic sounds alone exceed 85 decibels. And in the recovery wings of some US hospitals, the ambient volume can reach over 90 decibels. (Not exactly a peaceful healing environment.)

Toxic Noise: The Mental and Physical Effects of Noise

If there’s one takeaway from the previous section, it’s this: life is noisy. Cities are noisy. And the world is only growing louder. So what? Aside from possibly damaging your hearing—a serious health risk on its own—long-term exposure to noise pollution can impact your health in a number of ways.

And the adverse health effects of noise can start at just 50 decibels. If you’re frequently exposed to sounds above that threshold, your blood pressure might start to creep up. Take the volume up a few notches and you may be at higher risk for heart disease.

Those are just the physical effects of noise pollution—let’s take a look at the mental effects.

One of the most obvious effects of noise pollution is decreased sleep time and quality. It’s pretty straightforward: the noisier it is, the worse you’re going to sleep. Poor sleep has physical ramifications (you’ll feel tired), but it can also heighten your feelings of anxiety and increase your irritability.

Noise pollution can also make it difficult to focus—both in the office and at school—and increases anxiety. This can, in turn, increase your sensitivity to noise—creating a spiraling feedback loop.

Reclaiming Noise: Soundscapes and Other Sonic Experiments

Now you know that noise pollution often refers to the endless cacophony of traffic, construction, and general loudness present in most urban areas. But what if those sounds (or others in your neighborhood) were replaced by soothing ones? If blaring horns increase your anxiety, could, say, a birdsong lessen it?

Fortunately, you don’t have to rely on speculation. Various public officials, musicians, and sound engineers have followed that exact train of thought and implemented helpful soundscapes into public spaces.

A soundscape is basically an intentionally selected soundtrack played within a space. The soundtrack could be made up of anything. You can choose classical music, the sound of a bubbling stream, or, in the case of one California city, birdsong. In Lancaster, California, the mayor approved the installation of speakers along a portion of the main road. These speakers constantly played a mix of music and birdsong. Within a year, crime was down by 15 percent.

In London, a similar speaker system, which played only classical music, was deployed at a subway station with high rates of crime. The results were similar: crime rates fell.

How Music Affects Your Health

After all this talk about the negative effects of noise, one question is probably on your mind: what about music? But don’t worry, you can file music under “good noise.”

People love to tout the benefits of listening to classical music: it’s good for your brain, it’s good for your baby, it’s good for your dog, and so on. All of these may be true, but let’s take a look at why.

Music engages multiple areas of the brain, including some not associated with hearing and auditory processing. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, researchers have been able to see music’s effect on the brain in real time. As individuals listen to music, it stimulates activity in the areas of the brain associated with memory, movement, and emotion.

Perhaps this increased brain activity is what led to the popular notion that classical music makes you smarter. It’s hard to quantify the effect of music on intelligence, though. But here’s what we do know:

  • Listening to music can cause the body to release dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters that help regulate mood
  • Music can help reduce anxiety
  • Listening to classical music and jazz can help alleviate down feelings
  • Music can help you feel energized

These health benefits and others have led to the development of music therapy.

Music Therapy Connects Sound and Health

Music affects health in a number of ways, leading health professionals in a number of fields to put the positive effects of music to good use. These practices, used in fields as varied as physical therapy to psychological counseling, are referred to as music therapy.

In short, music therapy refers to the use of music (both listening and playing) by a licensed professional to achieve certain outcomes in a clinical setting. It’s a wide field and, as more discoveries are made, it’s only growing wider.

You might be familiar with music therapy as a form of mental-health treatment, as it often appears in mainstream media and pop culture. And it’s true: music can help individuals manage anxiety, mood, and more. However, you’re likely less familiar with music therapy as a form of physical therapy.

One surprising use case for music therapy is helping stroke patients. If an individual recovering from a stroke has lost their ability to speak, they may be able to sing. As they practice singing, the patients can work to regain some of the motor and cognitive functions required for speech.

A similar approach can be used to help patients with Parkinson’s Disease. In these cases, the rhythmic qualities of music can help some patients with movement.

Making the Most of Sound and Health in Your Life

It’s impossible—or at least incredibly impractical—for most people to avoid noise pollution altogether. So, what’s the next best thing?

Be mindful of the noise in your life.

If you live just off of a busy intersection, you may want to invest in some ear plugs. They could be the difference between a good night’s sleep and hours of tossing and turning. If you work in a noisy environment, definitely protect your hearing. Also try to take time for meditation and other quiet activities to balance out your noise exposure.

But don’t be afraid to throw some headphones on from time to time and listen to old favorites, new tunes, or even some birdsong mixed with classical music. All at a safe volume, of course!

It’s the tagline of everybody’s 3:00-in-the-afternoon slump. It’s that three-word utterance you’re so familiar with you probably don’t realize how often you say it: “I’m so tired.”

But why? What brings you to this point of heavy-lidded fatigue and exhaustion? Besides the obvious, easy answer—lack of sleep. But that answer’s simplicity is deceptive and implies that lack of sleep is easy to overcome and undo. As if getting enough sleep to fully power your day could be as simple as turning off your bedside lamp at night.

The reality of feeling and being tired is much more complex and convoluted. There’s traffic, schedule conflicts, and personal commitments. Carpools, gym trips, and the decision between cooking and takeout. It all drains the precious energy resources you have for the day.

On top of all of that, the fact artificial light (put off by all the technology everyone relies on) extends each day, encouraging you to work later and stay up longer. Research supports this new reality. And the effects are concerning. A recent global study showed that lack of sleep significantly impairs verbal skills and reasoning—things you depend on every day. In fact, researchers equated getting as few as four hours of sleep per night to aging eight years.

Changing your routine, slowing down your life, or decreasing screen time may be difficult. So, let’s start with something simple—awareness. Developing a better understanding of your personal expression of tired is helpful. What gets you there? How does it feel both mentally and physically?

Once you’re in tune with your own hallmarks of feeling tired, you can react quickly to assess and address your needs. Over time, this awareness will help you build preventive strategies, to keep you from experiencing unnecessary tiredness before it happens.

Signs & Symptoms of Tiredness

Young beautiful Afro-American businesswoman using laptop, holding cup and yawning while working in cafe

Awareness starts by knowing what you’re looking for. In the case of being tired, it’s both signs and symptoms. (They’re common and similar terms, but there is a difference.) Signs are what others can detect about you, because they’re visible from the outside. Symptoms are what you personally experience—what can be described by you alone.

When it comes to tiredness, a sign could be excessive yawning. This is something easily noticed by a friend who might say, “Wow, I see you’ve been yawning a lot. Did you get enough sleep last night?” A symptom could be mental fogginess, which isn’t outwardly visible to a friend, even though you are perceiving and experiencing it.

Here are a few more examples of the signs and symptoms of tiredness:

Signs Symptoms
Emotional irritability,

increased sensitivity, and

anxiety or depression

anxiety or depression
Mental forgetfulness lack of focus or concentration, and

mental fogginess

Physical frequent yawning or

unintentional dozing

headaches or

muscle fatigue

While these might seem obvious, there will be unique signs and symptoms for every person. As you become more fatigued, you may exhibit more emotional than physical signs of tiredness. Perhaps you lash out at a friend and immediately realize your overreaction. Or, when you’re tired, you become more easily stressed or upset by day-to-day hiccups than you normally would. Maybe you cry at something touching when that’s not your usual nature.

Research shows that sleep loss or deprivation can cause a sort of disconnection in the brain. Specifically, the part of your brain that controls emotion effectively shuts down. The failure of these control mechanisms when you’re tired gives rise to irrational reactions despite your best intentions.

While this isn’t exactly surprising, it is an interesting alternative to what you normally hear about the need for sleep. Yes, you need sleep to feel well-rested and physically rejuvenated. But you also need sleep to restore the brain connections responsible for emotion. This prepares you for the social interactions and challenges of the day ahead.

Don’t Let Feeling Tired Destroy Your Diet

After eating fast food. Man feeling full or taking nap after eating junk. Guy having hangover or unhealthy diet. Stomach pain while sitting on couch.

Other unique signs and symptoms of tiredness may relate to your diet. While some may experience a decrease in appetite, research shows most people are affected in the opposite way. With increasing feelings of tiredness, the body loses its ability to evaluate appetite, which can lead to overeating.

Additionally, as you become more tired, you crave more calorie-dense foods. And you’re more likely to reach for snacks that are high in fat. That’s why research shows a connection between obesity and sleep deprivation.

Taken together, it’s important to understand how your body and mind respond to feeling tired. It can have negative effects on your mental and physical health. If not addressed, these can lead to detrimental social occurrences or develop into long-lasting habits of overeating.

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of how your own body is affected by getting tired. Let’s switch gears and focus more on when those feelings of being tired kick in.

Need A Nap? How to Beat the Afternoon Slump

It’s 3 o’clock. Your lunch has settled and your belly is warm. The hum of your computer feels and sounds like a lullaby. The text on your screen begins to blur together as your eyelids softly close once … twice … and then ahh, it feels so nice. Why don’t you just leave your eyes closed for a moment?

The dreaded afternoon slump rears its ugly head once again. The good news is a few simple tricks can help you beat this monster into submission. Try out these ideas and see if they work well for you:

  • Eat a breakfast rich in protein. Studies have shown that meals (especially breakfast) that include protein and fiber are associated with better sleep quality. If you can, decrease the carbohydrate portion (if any) in your breakfast and substitute it for protein. This will help you feel fuller for longer, help with daytime alertness, and nighttime sleep. Here’s an idea: skip the bagel and go for an egg.
  • Avoid caffeine late in the day. While caffeine has its perks, overloading too much can wreck your nighttime rest. Consider not going for the second (or third, or fourth) cup of coffee or tea as the day wears on. If that’s not an option, try cutting back on the amount of caffeinated beverages in each cup you drink.
  • Bring healthy snacks along. Before you start feeling tired, reach for a healthy snack. Something with protein, like nuts, can help you feel more alert and full. Another idea: try a satisfyingly crunchy snack like carrots, celery, or apple paired with your favorite nut butter. Small, frequent snacks can ward off hunger throughout the day. They also help you stay powered up and focused on the tasks at hand.

Busting the Tall Tales of Tiredness

Lastly, arm yourself with helpful truths about sleep. There is a lot of misleading or confusing information out there. And wading through it all can be exhausting—exactly what you’re trying to avoid!

Here are three common myths about sleep—let’s debunk each one:

  1. You have to get eight hours of sleep each night to be well rested.

False! You probably have “eight” in your head like it’s a magic number. A lot of people believe eight hours of sleep is the key to solving daytime fatigue or nighttime sleep issues. While eight hours might be the right amount of rest for you, it’s not universal.

This figure comes from research on thousands of people and reflects an average. That means there are plenty of people who fall on either side of eight hours per night. So, if you’re someone who sleeps for six hours each night and wakes up feeling well-rested and rejuvenated—that’s great. You’re doing just what your body needs. Don’t change. The same is true if you replace that six with 10. The issue arises if you sleep some number of hours per night—whether it’s eight or not—and you wake up feeling exhausted and foggy.

Moral of the story: don’t get stuck on eight. Find out what works for you and try to build a routine around your personal number.

  1. Naps are great for making up for lost sleep. The longer the nap, the better.

This one is both true and false. While naps can assist in making up for lack of sleep, there is a strategy to follow. It has to do with the time of day you nap and for how long.

Dr. W. Chris Winter, a neurologist and somnologist (brain and sleep doctor), suggests you try to nap in the morning or earlier in the day. Think of it as adding to the previous night’s sleep. The alternative route—napping in the afternoon or later in the day—robs you of a longer sleep session later that night.

Secondly, rethink how long your naps last. Two-hour naps are, in fact, not naps. They’re daytime sleep sessions. Instead, consider how long it takes you to fall asleep (usually 10-15 minutes) and add 20. Set an alarm for 30-45 minutes, giving you enough time to drift off and stay there for a solid, sensible session.

  1. Getting in bed with the TV on helps me fall asleep.

Person watches TV at night in his bed with his feet sticking up out of the blankets. The TV screen is blank white

This might seem true for you, but perhaps not for the right reasons.

Screens, and the blue light they emit, inhibit your body’s natural processes that help you go to sleep, namely melatonin production. Consider turning the screen off 30-90 minutes before you go to bed. If that’s difficult, try for 15 minutes and apply a blue light filter to the screen you’re using (easy to do on a smartphone, computer, or tablet).

Perhaps what you enjoy about a TV at bedtime is the white noise it emits as you drift off. Opt for a sound machine that doesn’t come with the blue light. Sound machines come in many forms that may suit you, including apps on smartphones. If that’s not your style, a simple fan can do the trick.

Rest is Best

No matter who you are or what you do, you likely need more rest. That’s just the way modern life makes almost everyone feel. And you deserve more rest. Now you have the tools to get it.

After a look at barriers to restful sleep and stressors that keep you feeling tired, hopefully you understand how you can achieve more rest. Take stock of your habits, schedule, signs, and symptoms. With a little bit of planning and dedication, you’ll be free from constantly feeling tired.

Want to learn more? Visit What’s Up USANA? to find more tips about sound sleep habits.



Greer SM, Goldstein AN, Walker MP. The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nat Commun. 2013; 4: p. 2259.

Ward, A. “Somnology (SLEEP) Part 1 with W. Chris Winter.” Ologies Podcast.

Yoo, S. “The human emotional brain without sleep – a prefrontal amygdala disconnect.” Current Biology. 2007; 17: pp. R877-R878.

As the sun recedes, nighttime approaches. The light fades and the darkness crawls in. It welcomes you to do the same: crawl into your bed and retire for the night. The darkness is like a blanket. Tuck into its warmth and the outside world quiets, allowing your internal world to do the same.

If you’re like many these days, though, turning in for the night is not so simple. It’s become increasingly difficult to put the phone (or other tech device) away when the nighttime beckons. And the next morning is no different. Modern life is built around technology. It’s likely become integral to how you work and interact with others. And unfortunately, even bedtime and morning routines are no longer exempt from technology’s touch.

Phone to Bed, Phone to Rise

Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, it seems the smart phone or another tech device isn’t far. Many rely on phones to tell them when to wake up and even remind them when to go to bed. Many doing desk jobs find that work revolves around a screen. Computers keep people connected to colleagues, provide easy communication, and keep schedules organized.

It doesn’t stop at the office exit doors. Recreation and relaxation have come to center around technology. Increasing internet speeds, accessibility of streaming video, and game consoles have started to monopolize how people choose to spend their downtime.

Completely freeing yourself from screens would be hard—and unnecessary. There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying screen-based entertainment. But indulging for hours, especially at night, could harm your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

This disruption can throw off your sleep schedule. Turning in later not only decreases the quantity of sleep, but likely the quality, too. But why? How is ticking away the hours with your phone different than curling up with a book (a paperback, not an e-book)? Let’s find out how technology affects sleep. Dive into the science behind blue light, the body’s sleep process, and how they interact.

The Blues of Blue Light

Your ancestors lived by the sun. As it rose, they awoke. As it set, they turned in and slept. Before electricity, the world went dark with the disappearance of the sun, save for some candlelight. This means the human body became accustomed to the rhythms of light and dark. Internal processes adapted to match what was happening in the external world.

When lightbulbs lit up the world stage, things began to change. Humans no longer had a reason to turn in early, because light could be created at will. But the lightbulb’s glow was different than the blue light emitted by digital screens.

But what exactly is blue light? Natural sunlight is white light. But if broken down into its components, you’ll find the rainbow: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Each of these types of light have a different energy and wavelength. Light on the bluer end of the spectrum carries higher energy in shorter wavelengths.

Sunlight is blue-heavy, so this energetic light keeps you awake and alert. In fact, blue light actually suppresses your body’s secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This is why your body naturally wants to wake up in the morning. Dusk is the opposite. As the sun recedes, the residual light is steeped in red (lower energy, longer wavelength). This means red light has the opposite effect of blue, and doesn’t suppress melatonin. So, it doesn’t interfere with your natural circadian rhythm.

Screens are the Key to How Technology Affects Sleep

Now that you have an understanding of blue light as it relates to natural sunlight, it’s time to shift the focus to artificial, screen-based lights.

Screens (your phone, tablet, computer, or television) emit blue light that interact with cells deep behind the eyes. In simplest terms, when your eyes take in blue light, a couple of things happen. These cells express a protein that goes on to communicate with a specific part of the brain. Together, these events help synchronize your circadian rhythm with the sun.

Basically, when you take in blue light, your brain tells you it’s time to wake up or stay awake. With this knowledge, the impact of screens on the quality and cycles of your sleep starts to become clear. And the question of whether time with a screen or behind a book is better is no longer a mystery.

Let’s drive this point home with some scientific research.

In a small study, researchers divided individuals into three groups and asked them to interact with a digital tablet for two hours before bed. Group 1 wore goggles fitted with blue-emitted LEDs. This was known as the “true positive” group, since blue light is known to suppress melatonin. Group 2 wore orange-tinted glasses to filter out blue light (the “dark control” group). Group 3 weren’t given goggles or glasses.

The findings were enlightening.

After two hours of light exposure, participants in groups 1 and 3 experienced significant reduction in melatonin levels compared to the dark control group. Compare this experiment to a real-life example, like a two-hour long feature film. If you go to a late evening showing (without your orange-tinted goggles), the movie will likely affect your melatonin levels and discourage your body from readying itself for sleep.

Does Blue Light Mean a Blue Mood?

Perhaps this isn’t news to you. You may already intuitively understand that excessive time behind a screen isn’t natural or especially healthy. But are you aware of the emotional effects blue light—both too much and too little—can have? Getting the right amount of light, at the right time is key for maintaining your mood.

Shift work (graveyard shifts) and jet lag give glimpses into the effect of light (or lack thereof) on mood. Those who work late and sleep during the day often experience shifts in mood or irritability. Likewise, those who travel across time zones struggle adjusting to a new sleeping schedule. Temporary insomnia imposed by travel can leave you feeling edgy, exhausted, and emotionally off kilter.

Additionally, those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) struggle with shorter days with shorter periods of natural light. Some find comfort with SAD lamps, or light therapy. Light therapy is a possible treatment for SAD.

Light therapy is simple and can be done at home. A light therapy box (or SAD lamp) emits bright light that mimics the wavelength of natural light. Flooding the face and eyes with this bright light can help offset some of the mood shifts that come with the lack of natural light in the winter months. It can also help those who struggle with some sleep disorders, or adjusting to a graveyard shift.

Animal studies have offered additional clues. Researchers have noticed anxious and depressive symptoms in mice forced to live in constant light or constant darkness. While “constant light” might sound uplifting, consider your newfound knowledge. It also means constant blue light. That means that the eyes and brain are constantly stimulated, making rest hard to come by.

When you extrapolate similar conditions to humans, it’s not hard to imagine similar consequences. Humans experience the same affects under constant blue light. You need light to play and you seek darkness for rest.

Loosening Blue Light’s Grip on Your Sleep

Technology is the future, and screens are not going away anytime soon—if ever. It’s a fair assumption that most don’t want to risk social isolation by foregoing screens completely. Luckily, you can stay plugged in without damaging your physical and emotional wellness. Take a look at some ideas for finding a healthy balance:

  • Limit or eliminate your screen usage at a certain time. Remember the two-hour tablet study. Try turning off (or putting away) your devices more than two hours before bed. Going cold turkey might be hard. Try doing this in 30-minute increments, increasing the time before bed as you get more comfortable.
  • Swap out your wind-down activities. Opt for something that soothes, rather than excites your brain. This could be reading, journaling, or walking. Any activity that doesn’t involve, or at least doesn’t depend on, a screen to function, will do.
  • Add a blue-light filter to all of your devices. If you use Apple products, open the control center from your home screen. You might be familiar with the brightness icon, which allows you to control the intensity of light coming out of your screen. However, if you firmly hold down on the button, a new view will appear. Tap the button below the brightness meter (the image is a moon inside a sun). Turning this on will filter out most of the blue light. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, look up applications that provide the same function. Google Chrome has various extension options (like “Screen Shader”). You can also download an app like “f.lux.”

Screens might be here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they must rule the entirety of your days and nights. Armed with this new information about how technology affects sleep, all you need is a little bit of forethought and planning to reclaim a regular, restful routine. Maybe a tip from the list above resonates with you. Or you can find something better that integrates to your life. Either way, it’s possible to balance your screen usage and limit your exposure to blue light.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! An entire night has passed in the blink of an eye. The last thing you remember is your head hitting the pillow in the dark. Now, seemingly seconds later, the incessant, blaring of the alarm clock wakes you. But it does no help in reminding you what day it is, where you are, or perhaps even who you are.

Surely, you’ve experienced a morning like this: groggy, confused, and sleep-deprived. The effort to keep your eyes open feels exhausting. Standing up and leaving your warm bed behind is torturous. The day’s long to-do list awaits you and seems daunting.

Of course, you soldier on and make it through the day. But what does that day look like? It’s surely not smooth sailing, all quiet keyboard clicks and soothing, classical music. No, on days like this, you’re more likely to hear a cacophony of noises—the cell phone ringing, inbox pinging, and doors slamming after you in a hurry. All whilst trying to drown out the chatter in your head— “Don’t forget to do this!” and “I forgot to do that!”

Foregoing solid, quality sleep can affect your day in a big way. It’s important to remember that the effects of sleep deprivation are not just physical, like the physical feeling of exhaustion. Just like the scenario above, low-quality or insufficient sleep can manifest itself mentally and emotionally. That can include a loss of concentration, short attention span, and even anger. Lack of sleep can also mean a lack of motivation and sharp decision-making skills, forgetfulness, and anxiety.

Sleep is important for feeling rested, but it’s more than physical downtime. Sleep is also your brain’s chance to recharge and regroup. Let’s look more in-depth at the physical and mental benefits of regular, quality sleep.

Sleep and Health: The Pros and Cons

Pro of Good Sleep Con of Poor Sleep
Mental Solidifies memory retention and information recall Decreases ability to concentrate
Enhances learning and problem-solving capabilities Poor decision-making skills
Increases alertness Shorter attention span
Boosts creativity Lack of motivation
Promotes adaptability and resiliency Inability to cope with change
Better regulation of emotions Increases risk for feeling down
Physical Maintains cardiovascular health Increases risk for cardiovascular and kidney issues
Helps regulate hormones associated with hunger Increases risk of obesity
Helps maintain normal blood sugar levels Increases risk for blood-sugar issues
Maintains healthy development, muscle growth, and tissue repair Interruption of growth hormone secretion
Supports strong immunity Increases risk of common cold

Science of Sleep: What Happens When You Snooze

Sleep gives your body and mind an opportunity to power down and recharge. It might seem like this period is simply an absence of consciousness, where the body goes into a sort of idling mode. However, during sleep, your body and brain are actually working hard. Sleep activates a process that helps you rest, repair, and recharge. Take a closer look at the processes during the four different stages of sleep.

Stage 1 is the period between wakefulness and sleep. In this stage, everything starts to slow down. Muscles soften, heart and breathing rates decrease, and brain-wave patterns begin to change.

Stage 2 is light sleep. Your muscles loosen even more, heart and breathing rates continue to slow, and your body temperature drops.

Stage 3 is the deepest sleep stage. Here, your heart and breathing rates come to the lowest point of the entire sleep cycle. Your muscles are extremely relaxed and rousing you would prove difficult. It’s this stage that is integral to quality sleep. Without enough time spent in this sleep state, you will not awaken feeling well-rested.

Stage 4 (the final stage of the sleep cycle) is known as REM sleep, or rapid eye movement sleep. The first three stages involve non-rapid eye movement sleep or non-REM (NREM).

In many other ways, REM is also quite the opposite of the preceding three stages. Heart rate increases and breathing rate can quicken and become irregular. Eyes move rapidly behind the eyelids and brain activity livens. Dreaming is commonly experienced during the REM sleep stage. Your body might actually experience temporary paralysis of the limbs, a protective measure to keep the body from acting out movements about which you dream.

These four stages are cycled through in succession until you wake up. It’s necessary for you to experience both NREM and REM sleep to remain sharp through the day. Without both, memory consolidation is harmed. As you’ve surely experienced, after a night of little-to-no sleep, it can be very difficult to recall even simple information quickly.

Factors Impacting Your Sleep

Good sleep can seem like a complex puzzle. Many factors can influence the quality and duration of your sleep. If you have trouble sleeping through the night, try keeping a journal to monitor the factors below. You can jot down notes throughout the day or write a quick summary before bed. Whichever your preferred method, having a daily snapshot of your diet, activity level, and emotional state can give you an idea of which of these things improve or harm your sleep quality:

  • Caffeine: This stimulant usually wakes up the body and can keep you from feeling tired. In fact, caffeine actually blocks the substance adenosine, a chemical that your body secretes to make you sleepy. While this can be a benefit in the morning or during a long day, ingesting too much caffeine in the late afternoon or early evening can affect your sleep.
  • Alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol too late in the evening can disrupt your sleep patterns. More specifically, it can disrupt your REM sleep, leaving your cycles incomplete. On a simpler level, alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it increases the urge to urinate more frequently. So, having too much alcohol can also disrupt your rest because you might have to make more frequent trips to the bathroom.
  • Diet: The timing and content of your last meal can affect your readiness for bed. Think of the blood sugar surge that comes from a meal or snack. The boost in energy late in the day can keep you from winding down easily.
  • Physical activity: Regular exercise can help you maintain a regular sleep schedule. Just don’t exercise too late in the evening before bed, or your body won’t have time to settle back down before turning in.
  • Stress level and emotional state: Consider how stressful your day was or your emotional state throughout the day. If you’re feeling especially worn down, worried, or otherwise stressed, it can be very difficult to quiet your mind for bed.
  • Bright lights: You’re constantly being bombarded by light, with can impact production of your sleep hormone. Make sure your room is dark, and take a break from bright screens (TV, phones, and tablets) before you tuck in.

7 Tips for Better Quality Rest

After journaling for a week, you may notice some patterns. Pay close attention to what these clues are trying to tell you. From these, you can create a personalized wind-down plan to prepare you for bedtime. If journaling isn’t your style, or you need some easy ideas, the seven tips for super sleep are below:

  1. Consider cutting back on how much caffeine you drink, or impose a “caffeine deadline”—a point at which you won’t ingest any more for the day.
  2. Drink alcohol in moderation or impose an “alcohol deadline” so that your body has time to readjust before bed.
  3. Avoid eating a meal or post-meal snack too late in the evening.
  4. Exercise regularly, preferably early in the day. A good starting point is 20 minutes per day—and work up from there.
  5. Plan for at least seven hours of sleep. You may need more than seven. But this is a good target to work up to if you’re currently and routinely getting less than this benchmark. While you may not be able to reach seven hours immediately, start incrementally heading for bed sooner so the change is gradual and more doable.
  6. Set a regular bedtime and waking time—and stick to it, even on weekends. This kind of routine is helpful for keeping your body’s internal clock in rhythm.
  7. Incorporate relaxation or meditation into your wind-down routine. Turn off screens, dim your bedroom lights, play light instrumental music. Light stretching can help your body release tension before laying down.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.

Ever wonder why some animals are nocturnal? Or why you or a friend has to get at least nine hours of sleep every night? Or why a family member can function perfectly well with just five hours?

The answers lie in your physiology.

Did you know your body has its own internal Rolex? OK, not exactly. But your body does keep time. It’s called your internal biological clock—or scientifically speaking, your circadian rhythms.

A well-running clock is essential for your health. So much so, that the scientists who discovered how circadian rhythms work were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 2017.

Learn how your biological clock affects all aspects of your health. That includes proper sleep, mental health, eating habits, healthy aging, the pesky effects of jet lag, and overall wellbeing.

The Discovery of Circadian Rhythms

It seems natural that daily routines would revolve around the 24-hour daily period of the sun. But, to be a true circadian rhythm, the cycles must persist regardless of external conditions. That means if you remove all external stimuli (like the sun or your alarm clock) your physiology still centers around a 24-hour cycle. In fact, studies conducted in complete darkness prompted the discovery of these rhythms.

Researchers in the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century discovered that these natural cycles occur independent of sunlight. They found plants kept in total darkness still have movements that occur in roughly 24-hour patterns. Also, humans and other animals kept in total darkness, retain cyclical sleep and other biological patterns.

As research in this area continued to progress, the word circadian was first used in 1959 and officially adopted 1977. “Circadian” is of Latin origin meaning around (circa) the day (diem). Circadian rhythms are defined as any one of your physiological processes that occur in cycles of about 24 hours.

Research continues today, usually on those who have irregular sleep-wake patterns. This includes people who get tired at irregular time periods, or who have trouble sleeping. It extends to those who have to fight their natural 24-hour clock. Individuals like shift workers and frequent flyers.

Circadian Rhythms Can Shift With Changing Stimuli

Much of your physiology cycles between on and (mostly) off, in that 24-hour period you just read about. But 24 hours isn’t the hard and fast rule. The length varies between individuals, but devoid of external stimuli, these cycles range from 24 to 25 hours.

Without sunlight or other cues, your physiology will drift about one hour per day. Jet lag is one of the best examples of this phenomenon. If you’ve ever traveled you’ve experienced this. It takes about one day to get back in sync for every time zone you cross.

There are lots of outside influences that can impact your circadian rhythms. The major regulator is the normal day/night cycle of the sun. But it can be almost any kind of light, natural or artificial. Also the lack of light can help reset your clock.

A number of other influences can also help sync or disrupt your natural daily rhythms. Things like sleep time, wake time, eating, exercising, aging and travel all affect your biological clock.

Circadian Rhythms Are Also Responsible for Your Annual Cycles

Have you ever wondered what drives bears to gain weight in preparation for hibernation? Or, on a more personal level, why you may gain a little weight leading up to colder seasons? Circadian rhythms are not limited to only daily routines. They also play a role seasonal patterns, like eating.

Other seasonal rhythms you may experience, are changes in mood and behavior. You may find yourself feeling generally more tired during cold, dark, and wet weather. And some people experience happier moods during warm and sunny seasons. Animal behaviors, like migration, hibernation, and reproduction, are also examples of seasonal circadian rhythms.

Your Health Depends on Your Circadian Rhythms

Many studies have shown that disrupting daily rhythms have negative health consequences. Staying in a consistent daily routine—centered around constant sleep, wake, and meal times—has positive influences.

Guarding your natural circadian rhythms is important for overall health and well-being. Circadian rhythms influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, digestion, maintaining normal blood pressure, hunger, and body temperature—to name a few.

Disruptions in circadian rhythms (those caused by shift work, extensive travel, some forms of blindness, and various disease states) have been linked to negative health outcomes. That includes sleep disorders, obesity, mental health issues, and other chronic conditions.

But your lifestyle can help keep your rhythms steady. There are lots of factors that go into a healthy lifestyle. Maintaining a consistent daily routine that focuses on healthy habits can help stabilize rhythms and help you achieve optimal health.

Healthy Circadian Rhythms are Essential for a Good Night’s Sleep

Let’s focus on probably the most important thing circadian rhythms control—sleep.

The benefits of a regular sleep cycle are physical and mental. Sufficient, regular sleep promotes improved concentration and coordination. Physically, your body performs much of its regular repair and maintenance during sleep. Insufficient sleep can result in an increased risk of weight gain, compromised immune function, and more adverse health outcomes.

Since your body has a running biological clock, it controls, at a basic level, when you decide to sleep and stay awake. The rhythms help you fall asleep at the same time each day, and to stay asleep. They also help wake you up in the morning and flip the switch on the energy that powers your daily tasks.

During the day, your body suppresses the production of melatonin—what is often referred to as your sleep hormone. In the evening, when light stops hitting your eyes, you start producing melatonin. This hormone reduces alertness, makes you feel drowsy, and helps you fall asleep. Circadian rhythms further help you stay asleep by altering digestion to reduce bathroom breaks throughout the night. They also slow your metabolism by decreasing your body temperature.

That’s why most sleep experts agree you should sleep in a cool, dark room.

But what about naps? How do they fit into circadian rhythms? While not promoted by melatonin, an afternoon nap can still fit into your circadian rhythms. Like sleep during the night, it can reinvigorate you with energy and increased concentration. Stick to shorter power-naps (less than 30 minutes). Longer naps can disrupt your normal sleep cycle.

Naps might not impact your circadian rhythms. But some aspects of modern culture and lifestyle have you fighting against your internal clock. Airplanes allow you to cross the globe and multiple time zones very rapidly. This can leave you out of sync with your natural cycle. This is commonly called jet lag. You’ll read about more common disruptors below.

4 Common Causes of Circadian Rhythm Disruption

1. Drugs and Alcohol Can Disrupt Your Biological Clock

Drugs, both legal and illegal, have a strong impact on the central nervous system. While this can affect all types of circadian rhythms, sleep is one that is most apparent. For example, caffeine is a stimulant that can disrupt and push back your normal sleep cycle. Alcohol can do the opposite. It promotes drowsiness. But, at the same time, it can prevent you from entering a deep and restful sleep.

Drug abuse is especially harmful to circadian rhythms. Even a single case of abuse disrupts sleep cycles in a way that can lead to further abuse and addiction. Drug abuse can also cause long-term disruptions to circadian rhythms that last after you break the addiction.

These disruptions can be caused by all types of drugs, including prescriptions. You should not stop taking your prescription medication, but you should work with your doctor and pharmacist. They will help you determine medication timing and other lifestyle changes to keep you in rhythm and at your healthiest.

2. Artificial Lighting Negatively Affects Your Daily Rhythms

Your eyes might not mind the difference between natural and artificial light. But your circadian rhythms do differentiate between types of light. Depending on the timing and color, artificial light can increase or decrease your natural, daily rhythm.

Shorter wavelength lights, like blue and ultraviolet, are especially harmful to your biological cycle. These wavelengths inhibit the production of melatonin. Remember, melatonin is your sleep-promotion hormone. Lights in your home, on your television, phone, or computer monitor all can negatively impact your melatonin production.

As you get ready for sleep each night, consider turning off your digital screens. Another option, many phones and computers now include a “Night” setting that makes the screen much warmer colored and reduces its blue-light output.

3. Working Nights is Bad for Circadian Rhythms (and Health)

doctor feel tired sleeping on desk of clinic. beautiful mixed race asian chinese woman model. medical and health concept

Unfortunately, this is one disruption that you might not have as much control over as you would like.

Working night shifts disrupts your circadian rhythms in a number of ways. You have to work when you should be asleep, sleep when your body wants to be awake, and you’re surrounded by either artificial light or sunlight 24 hours a day.

There are a few things that you can do to create a healthy routine around your nighttime work:

  • Stick to a schedule. Wake up and go to sleep at the same time each day.
  • Create a dark sleep environment. Use blinds, blackout curtains, or get creative to block out the sunlight from coming in your windows. Put a towel under the bottom edge of your door. Do whatever it takes to make it feel like night.
  • Consider a melatonin supplement. For shift work, supplementing melatonin can help support your body’s natural circadian rhythms.*

4. Fight to Stay on Local Time to Combat the Effects of Jet Lag

If you have ever flown across several time zones, you know the feeling of jet lag. It can leave you tired when you want have energy, or stuck awake all night long. Airline pilots, flight crews, and frequent fliers are all too familiar with these feelings. With extreme cases leading to constant tiredness that never actual leads to a good night of sleep.

One of the best ways to fight jet lag is to stick with the local schedule. You might have just gotten off a 10-hour flight ready for sleep, but locally it’s only noon. Do your best to stay awake. Feel free to take this first day easy, but don’t go to sleep until it’s actually night.

Alternately, due to the time zone changes, you might arrive feeling rested. But the locals are heading to bed. This is most likely to happen if you’re travelling east a few time zones. In this case, consider waking up early the day of your flight and avoid sleeping on the plane. This will help shift your waking hours closer to your destination.

In either of the cases above, a melatonin supplement about one hour before you plan to sleep can help shift your circadian rhythms towards the local time zone.* This will help you feel energized and ready for whatever your location has in store.

Stay in Rhythm

As you can see, your circadian rhythms are super important. But they are so overlooked when it comes to achieving optimal health. You’ve seen how they can impact your life, and how your life can impact your circadian rhythms. Do what you can to protect your natural cycles to help keep you as healthy as possible.

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Milner CE, Cote KA (June 2009). “Benefits of napping in healthy adults: impact of nap length, time of day, age, and experience with napping”. Journal of Sleep Research. 18 (2): 272–81.

Walmsley L, Hanna L, Mouland J, Martial F, West A, Smedley AR, Bechtold DA, Webb AR, Lucas RJ, Brown TM (April 2015). “Colour as a signal for entraining the mammalian circadian clock”. PLoS Biology. 13 (4): e1002127.


Czeisler CA, Duffy JF, Shanahan TL, et al. Stability, precision, and near-24-hour period of the human circadian pacemaker. Science. 1999;284(5423):2177-81.


*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.



Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston studied 12 healthy adults who were randomized to read either a light-emitting eBook or a printed book in dim room light. The participants in each group read for 4 hours prior to bedtime for 5 consecutive evenings. At the end of the 5 days, the subjects switched their assignments. Blood samples were taken during the study and evaluated for melatonin levels. The researchers also documented sleep latency, time and efficiency using polysomnography, a diagnostic tool used in sleep studies.

The reading of eBooks before sleep was associated with a longer time needed to fall asleep and less rapid eye movement (REM) in comparison to reading a printed book. Printed book reading resulted in no suppression of melatonin, but eBook readers experienced an average melatonin suppression of over 55%. In addition, compared to the reading of printed books, the onset of melatonin release in response to dim light occurred 1.5 hours later the day following reading of an eBook. Individuals reading the e-Books also reported being more tired and taking longer to become alert the next morning.

Unlike natural light, electronic devices emit a short-wavelength-enriched light that is more concentrated in blue light. These results demonstrate that evening exposure to light-emitting electronics such as eBooks may delay the circadian clock and suppress the release of melatonin, and this may have a negative impact on sleep, performance, health, and safety.

Chang AM et al. Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jan 27;112(4):1232-7.