Sleep-wake cycle refers to your 24 hour daily sleep pattern which consists of approximately 16 hours of daytime wakefulness and 8 hours of night-time sleep. This is controlled by your brain, which controls all internal functions of the body. These functions include when to feel sleepy, release of hormones and temperature changes in the body, to name a few.
Sleep-wake cycles and circadian rhythms
It’s helpful to know a little about circadian rhythms and their relation to sleep-wake cycles. Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes in response to light and dark. This is in tune with your internal body clock which controls different processes, including sleep-wake cycles. These cycles are synchronised to the daily light-dark cycle of the external environment. This cycle affects your sleep and wake times. It’s why you feel sleepy at night and hungry around lunch time and dinner time.
How does your sleep-wake cycle get disrupted?
Any activity that causes a change in your daily or sleep schedule will affect your sleep-wake cycle. A change in job timings for which you need to stay up late at night or traveling internationally causing jet lag will also affect your sleep. This is because your internal body clock is following one time, but you are following another. As mentioned above, your circadian rhythm is synchronised to the light-dark cycle, and when this changes, your sleep-wake cycle changes. As a result, you may suffer from irregular or disturbed sleep!
How to correct irregular sleep-wake cycles?
- Add structure to your day
- Reduce screen exposure at night
- Get the best sleeping environment
Add structure to your day. By doing this, you’re giving your internal system a chance to follow a set routine. Similar waking and sleeping patterns allow your body to function smoothly with no problems. If you eat at the same time everyday, exercise or work during the same hours and sleep every night at the same time, it’ll help you get your sleep-wake cycle back on track. This is because your body and mind will be familiar with your cycle and accordingly adjust its behaviour. You won’t feel hungry when it’s time to sleep and your circadian rhythm will also be in check with the light-dark exposure.
Reduce screen exposure at night. At night, when it’s dark outside, it’s best to reduce your exposure to bright light. The biggest source of this light is your smartphone or laptop. Avoid working late at night, binge-watching TV or browsing social media when it’s late at night. This will stimulate your body and mind, reduce the amount of melatonin in your body and lead to more alertness. As a result, you will not be able to sleep soon and it’ll disrupt your sleep-wake cycle the next day. Try Evolve’s “post a netflix binge” to sleep faster in case you’ve been binge-watching TV at night.
Get the best sleeping environment. An ideal sleeping environment is good for your body and mind. It gets the best out of your sleep-wake cycle and allows you to get enough sleep. As a result, your wakefulness hours are spent in a productive manner doing the things you need to do when it’s bright and sunny outside. If you’re unable to do this, it would lead to a lot of restless sleep or sleepless nights. As a result, you may suffer from daytime sleepiness or oversleeping too! An ideal sleeping environment is one which is dark, sound-free, with comfortable mattresses and blankets and with an optimal temperature that suits you and your sleep-wake cycle!
Ensuring you follow a good sleep schedule and routine, get the most of your sleep cycles and reduce stress throughout the day are good practices for your sleep-wake cycle. In case you are not sleeping well at night, try meditation to improve your sleep quality and fall asleep faster!