Are you an owl or a lark? While the world seems to function on the lark principle, many people who suffer out-of-whack sleep patterns, believing they are owls, drag themselves out of bed every morning and slog off to work only half awake. They do this day after day because they are unknowingly exposing themselves to the day's blue light spectrum before their bodies are ready for it.
Research by Mariana Figueiro at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, shows that owls can have their sleep patterns brought into line with the 5:00 a.m. alarm clock by applying exposure to light from the blue spectrum at the right time in their circadian rhythms. People most often affected by sleep phase disturbances are teenagers, shift workers and the elderly.
Circadian means "about the day," and our bodies have a cycle that repeats every 24 hours that includes not only the sleep/wake cycle, but also body temperature, hormone levels, heart rate, blood pressure and pain threshold. The brain has its own internal pacemaker that determines when nerve cells fire to set the body's rhythms. People are more likely to sleep deeply in the small hours of the morning, when their body temperature is the lowest, then start awakening when their body temperature starts to rise, usually about 6:00 to 8:00 a.m.
Colors of the day's light spectrum in combination with people's own natural rhythms can help shift the body's clock ahead by a couple of hours. Midnight people who usually find themselves staring at the ceiling in the dark will be ready for sleep earlier in the evening, which enables them to get in enough hours of z's and awaken feeling refreshed the next morning.
Resetting the clock
Researchers learned that by removing blue light early in the morning through having subjects wear orange glasses, then applying blue light and darkness at nighttime, they could reset the participants' internal "master clocks." The key is a distinct, repeated, pattern of light and dark.
Working with the body's natural rhythm achieves much more effective and safer results than taking sleep medications.
For an enjoyable perspective on sleep read http://www.examiner.com/x-983-DC-Art-Travel-Examiner~y2009m2d20-Fascinating-DC-exhibit-on-sleep-dreams-and-insomnia
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