Friday, August 7, 2009

In search of Circadian Rhythm

I've always had trouble with sleep. As young as 5 years old, when my parents divorced, I had terrifying nightmares that disrupted my rest. When I was 12, I even saw a doctor because my insomnia was so bad. I've had good years and bad years, and last year was a bad year.

I've tried a range of remedies. Some have helped. A chiropractor suggested a concussion I had at 11 (from a head-first bike accident) may have disrupted my hypothalamus. The treatment she gave me did make a notable difference, but it didn't erase the problem. I have a history also of slight hypothyroidism (resulting in a slow metabolism). My insomnia seems to be related to hormonal cycles. Melatonin sometimes helps. Exercise sometimes helps. But I still have nights where I can only sleep half the night.

Earlier this week, I read a blog post intended for travelers changing time zones. A Harvard researcher discovered that in addition to light, food intake affects the body's rhythms as well. Clifford Saper suggests that fasting for 16 hours can reset the sleep/wake cycle. I'm trying it out, and it does seem to make a difference. I haven't been falling asleep earlier, but I have been waking up clear-headed and alert when I am usually sluggish and sleepy. I've gone 2 nights so far. We'll see if it actually shifts my sleep/wake cycle enough to fall asleep earlier.

(The nifty biological clock illustration is by YassineMrabet, posted on Wikimedia Commons)

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