Factors Influencing Sleep-Wake Cycles

Instructor: Emily Cummins
Our sleep-wake cycle is what regulates our sleep patterns. In this lesson, we'll talk about how the sleep-wake cycle works and how this cycle can sometimes be disrupted.

Sleep-Wake Cycle

We all know it's important to get a good night's sleep. When we sleep poorly, it can have negative impacts on our mood and our well-being. Lack of sleep over a long period of time can have serious implications for our health. The sleep-wake cycle is basically our body's way of controlling when we sleep and when we wake up. It's based on two things: homeostasis and circadian rhythms. Homeostasis is all about internal things, like our body temperature and our blood pressure. If some of these internal things are off, then it can impact our sleep. Homeostasis tells us when it's time to sleep. So, if we've been up for too long, we'll start getting sleepy.

Think of circadian rhythms as kind of like a biological clock. These rhythms are basically changes that happen over a 24-hour period and it's all about regulating when we should go to sleep and when we should wake up. This is why, for example, most of us start feeling sleepy in the evening and wake up in the morning. The exact timing for this can vary from person to person but basically this is like our own internal clock that tells us when it's time to be sleepy.

But there are things that can throw off our sleep rhythms. Let's talk about the factors that negatively impact our sleep-wake cycle and can contribute to sleep disorders.

Disruptions to Sleep-Wake Cycle

There are a number of different factors that can cause disruptions to our sleep cycle. Substances like alcohol and caffeine can impact our sleep. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep us awake if consumed too close to going to bed.

Jet lag can also impact our sleeping patterns. Basically, jet lag happens to us when we leave our own time zone and travel to a new one. Entering a new time-zone conflicts with our normal sleeping and waking patters. So, if you live in Boston and travel to Los Angeles, you're going to be ready for bed at dinnertime!

Adolescence is a time of development and growth. Teens have different needs than adults and one of those needs is a difference in the amount of sleep teenagers need to function. Teens need a lot more! That's why you hit the snooze button a million times before high school started. Your body needed that extra sleep. Teenagers also tend to feel sleepier later and want to wake up later. Studies report that teens often do not get enough sleep because their sleep patterns are trying to adjust but environmental factors interfere with this. For one thing, school starts much earlier than most experts agree is right for teens. They often stay up too late and find themselves exhausted the next day.

Sometimes, our working hours might not reflect those of a nine-to-five arrangement. Sometimes employees might need to work nights rather than days, and this can cause problems in our sleep. Shift work sleep disorder happens when our working schedule prevents us from getting sleep. We might not be able to fall asleep during the day, when we're meant to be sleeping after working all night. Basically, working nights forces us to go against that internal clock we talked about at the beginning of the lesson. This can make it very hard for us to do well at work.

Consequences of Sleep Disruptions

What happens when we don't get enough sleep or when we experience a sleep disorder? Inadequate sleep can have a number of consequences. For one thing, our mood is often impacted. It's difficult to be happy and cheerful when we're very tired!

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