The People's Perspective on Medicine

Show 1047: How to Sync Your Body Clock to Get the Sleep You Need (Archive)

Regular alternation of light and dark sets the body clock. When it gets out of sync, it can be hard to get the sleep you need for optimal health.
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How to Sync Your Body Clock to Get the Sleep You Need (Archive)

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Our daytime functioning depends in large measure on the sleep we get at night. No doubt that helps explain why we spend approximately 36 percent of our lifetimes sleeping. How can we embrace bedtime instead of resenting it? Can you reset your body clock along with your alarm clock?

How to Set Your Body Clock:

Our body clocks need bright natural light to set them, so spending all of our time indoors can disrupt our rhythm. In addition, being exposed to light instead of darkness at night interferes with natural patterns of sleep and wakefulness. How can you establish a better environment for getting the sleep you need?

Are You Getting Enough Sleep?

Perhaps you are already getting adequate sleep. How would you know? If you need an alarm clock, find it hard to wake up and crave caffeine in the morning, you might need more sleep. If you love to sleep in on weekends and your family suggests you are irritable or impulsive, you probably need more sleep. Find out why you should make sleep a priority. How does getting the sleep you need benefit your health?

This Week’s Guest:

Russell G. Foster, BSc, PhD, is Professor of Circadian Neuroscience and Director of the Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England. He is also Head of the Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology. Dr. Foster has a popular TED talk on why we sleep. 

Listen to the Podcast:

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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The influence of light on sleep is confusing. Dr. Foster says there are 2 effects: A low level that can increase alertness and delay sleep and a high level that can set the body clock. Brainard (J. Neurosci., 21(16):6405–6412) found the rough action spectrum and photo sensitivity of the Retinal Ganglion Cells Foster refers to based on partial melatonin suppression. The sensitivity found by Brainard corresponds to the low level. What is the high level that sets the clock? I never found any of these clock setting ideas to work.

If I am not tired, I will not go to sleep if I go to bed and no amount of daytime light will change it, but a hard day of work will. I have not seen any boost in alertness from enhanced blue light late in the day but when I had a job that required me to be at work at 6 AM I could never adjust to it and found that the blue rich multi vapor lights were very stressful in the morning. They did not make me more awake. When I switched to gold fluorescent lights (no blue) instead, relief was within a few minutes. I did not see the effect later in the day.

My comment on these is that it doesn’t do anyone any good if questions are posted, but no one answers the questions. What a waste of time to read these articles only to be left with unanswered questions!

I was disappointed that this program didn’t address ways to address sleep problems, e.g. medical, physicians. We already know that lack of sleep is bad for you. All too often physicians will not address the problem and just hand out pills. A sleep study address sleep. What if you are not sleeping? What can we do?!

An excellent information! I have long known the importance of good night sleep and especially staying on the schedule! Thank you for this wonderful show!

I have found that artificial sweeteners, soy products and wine all will keep me awake for long periods during the night.

Breast cancer awareness does not emphasize the research on the higher risk for night workers/”night owls”. I am recovering from a bilateral mastectomy due to two different types of malignancies. For prevention follow up I am taking Tamoxifen. Nothing in the prescription information mentioned this risk factor. However, in looking at research I learned that the drug will not be effective in preventing potential breast cancer cell development IF I do not change my sleep habits.

After listening to the podcast with Dr. Foster, I also realize that melatonin will not address this issue either. Thank you for this very informative program and resources.

As I am attempting to change my “night-owl/only-6-hour sleep pattern”, I now turn the TV off at dusk, turn on low light lamps, set my computer screen to automatically shift away from blue spectrum light [F-Lux program], or enjoy radio or books til sleepy.

Good for you, Ellen. I think the national epidemic of insomnia has to do with the constant use of blue light computer/tablet/phone screens.

This topic reminds me of something I’ve long wondered about. Y’know how they always say you should sleep in total darkness, so your body has the chance to make melatonin? And how nightshift-workers, e.g., are at greater risk of health problems because they’re usually NOT sleeping in the dark and thus don’t make melatonin?

Well, I’m wondering just HOW the body knows it’s NOT sleeping in “the dark.” If you’re totally covered up with blankets, your body’s “in the dark.” Say you also have a sleep-mask on… or, even if you just have closed eyes, that’s “in the dark” too! So, if just a little part of your face is exposed to some light, is that a total deal-breaker? Would the light/dark situation not be “pro-rata,” at least a bit? Or, is even a tiny bit of light enough to totally prevent the body from making melatonin?

I’m curious about this because I’m a huge nightowl and usually don’t get to bed before 4:30 or 5:00am. I do have my room super-dark but keep the door ajar for the catz so a little light does come in. I do take melatonin every night and sleep like a log!

From birth to age 35, I was able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat with absolutely no problem. However, after being diagnosed with bipolardisorder at 35, all too often sleep didn’t come so easily. I learned that the prescription sleep meds cause memory problems after showing up at my doctor’s office three different times for the same appointment. For the
time being, an extremely low dose of my antipsychotic sends me off to dreamland without side effects.

I have been looking for a natural way to get off Trazodone and Xanax prescribed for insomnia. I’ve been on both for over a year. Have suffered with insomnia for over 5 years. Any helpful suggestions out there?

From childhood through my 30’s, I was able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat with absolutely no problem. However, with the onset of bipolar disorder came major sleep difficulties. When missing sleep for a time, one risks losing the ability to hold onto their right mind.

I bought myself an acupressure mat. It really helps me to relax and fall asleep. It is also good for pain relief.

I understand that a melatonin supplement may allow you to get to sleep faster but will not affect how long you sleep, like if you wake up at 3 am and cannot get back to sleep. Does anyone have any insight?

I am wondering about the remark that if a person takes a long time to fully wake up in the morning, he is not getting enough sleep. When I was young I would wake up and get up immediately fully awake. Now at age 69 I have learned that if I get up when I wake up, I will soon be tired again so I stay in bed and often go back to sleep a few times. So how would I get enough sleep to fully wake up quickly?

Taking Losartan late in the evening threw off my body clock such that I was unable to get to sleep before 5 AM. Taking it before 9AM pretty much corrected that. I still need to get out in the sun more, especially in the morning, to raise my vitamin D3 level(which is barely sufficient even with supplements). I was able to get to bed last night at 11:30PM for the first time in years.

While visiting Portugal I started medicinal cannabis half an hour before bed in vaporizer – fantastic sleep. Now back in Australia cannabis is not yet legal so back to not sleeping. I try 1 teaspoon of honey to help my liver, melatonin tablet ….. but not as good as Cannabis herb.

Two things that have helped me are melatonin and lavender. The latter is a drop or 2 under the nose, on the pillow and on your wrists. Also put a blue light filter on your computer, tablet, & smart phone. I’m convinced the epidemic of insomnia and sleep deprivation is due largely to the continuous use of the LED screens. Try to find out what else is keeping you awake: sugar, too much exercise in the evening; too much stimulating conversation at bedtime, etc. Correct the cause, don’t medicate the symptom.

I had been taking vitamin B-12 for quite a few years to help calm my mind and was sleeping well most of the time. I decided to go off them and wow, was that a mistake. My mind raced something awful and I felt so ‘wired’. So back to the B-12 and now I am back to sleeping fairly well and my brain is not racing all night long and I don’t look like death warmed over.

I could go on and on about this one item that jet pilots, frequent flyers, and others swear by, but I’ll leave you with one word, MELATONIN !

A very interesting show with some good advice. Shame you couldn’t blame poor sleep patterns on the FDA though.

I have been a dreamer since I was a toddler. I dream from the time I go to sleep to the time I wake up. Even if I dose off I start dreaming. I don’t feel that I get quality sleep because I’m busy ALL night long. My dreams are so vivid that I get reality mixed up with dreams from time to time. Is there any help for me?

In order to enjoy a good nights sleep get rid of the medications and stimulants that trigger your adrenals.Most people do not work hard enough in this day and age to be tired but your senses are being stimulated 24/7 by the electronic media and this is the silent killer along with the alcohol, coffee and other compounds which trigger nociception pain receptors.

Dr. Foster’s insights on teen sleep and academic performance prompted me to refer this show to our school superintendent who is influential in Missouri.
More emphasis needs to be given to the mechanisms of sleep disruption whether job related, psychological, or chemical. More emphasis needs to also be given to how tightly the “clock” is wired – not just how it is set.

Routine recommendations for sleep or any other problem are inappropriate for people who have variabilities which are 2 or 3 SD’s off the mean. Some tightly wired people get all the work done for the hours of sleep in 4 hours or less. I need 8 1/2 hours if stressed or working on complicated projects, less when I have fewer problems or worries. After 30 plus years of erratic work hours and sleep disruption in a stressful rural Family Practice, my sleep cycle, memory and well being are markedly improved by routine Melatonin which I take in 5 mg SL tabs to avoid added calcium from the pills. I work outside daily but it is not enough apparently to get me back to a natural sleep pattern – and Melatonin is a great antioxidant as well.

Lastly, although I work primarily in DC electrical device development and implementation, Edison was great at promotion while Tesla was better at electricity. Salut!

What about the temperature variable for good sleep?

I have made sleep a priority, at times foregoing interesting social activities. It’s the most beneficial, least expensive medication you can find. I’ve read that it hasn’t always been the case that we do all our sleeping in one session, i.e., even before the siesta became practice, people would sleep a few hours at a stretch, with activities in between. I’d like to know more about that, if someone has comments.

I was wondering what the minimum exposure to sunlight was to set a circadian rhythm. I ask because my other half is a recovering chronic migraine sufferer. One of his triggers is sunlight. He barricaded himself indoors for a few years in order to avoid his triggers, and he had to take powerful meds. Now he gets his headaches only occasionally and can even get away with occasionally going outdoors to enjoy a little life. He has no circadian rhythm. We never know when he’ll be awake or asleep. So I’m wondering what is the minimal amount of exposure to sunlight he needs and when, in order to set a circadian rhythm.

I am taking Trazodone to help me sleep. It is not doing much good. What can I take that does not have side efects and will help me sleep? I am 78.

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