Ulcers, hyperglycemia, diabetes, hypertension, gastric intestinal problems are not always caused by diet - they could be linked to a disrupted internal clock.
Working a job that requires shift-work or experiencing chronic jet lag disrupts your circadian rhythm. It results in countless consequences to your body that simply can’t be fixed by counting sheep.
“Stimulants such as caffeine can disrupt a patient’s circadian rhythm but also irregular sleep habits, jet lag, Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder, which is common in teenagers, Shift Work Sleep Disorder and Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder, which is common in older people,” says Dr. Baqhar Mohideen, the medical director of the Center for Sleep Medicine at Porter Regional Hospital.
“A quarter of American workers are on shift-work – 10 percent of which experience Shift Work Sleep Disorders.”
Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder is when patients fall asleep late and have difficulty waking up in the morning. Shift Work Sleep Disorder affects patients who work nights or rotating shifts. Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder is when patients go to bed early in the evening but wake up very early in the morning around 3 a.m., for example.
Our bodies work on a 24-hour cycle called circadian rhythm or internal clock. The main function of our internal clock is to determine when we sleep and when we wake. Unfortunately if a circadian rhythm is disrupted it affects many biological conditions in the body such as digestion, the release of certain hormones, body temperature, etc.
“Because your hormones are all mixed up, there are lots of consequences – ulcers, chronic fatigue, insulin resistance, glucose intolerance, diabetes, etc.” says Mohideen, who is a Diplomat of the American Board of Sleep Medicine.
Glucose intolerance is an umbrella term for metabolic conditions which result in higher blood glucose levels known as hyperglycemia.
Dr. Muhammed Najjar, sleep specialist at the Franciscan Healthcare Sleep Disorders Center located in Munster, agrees there are consequences for a disrupted circadian rhythm caused by Shift Work Sleep Disorder.
“Daytime functions shouldn’t be at night. When there’s a misalignment between the patient’s internal clock and the outside world, it’s not good for the body,” says Najjar. “Shift work causes stress to the body so blood pressure gets elevated, which is why this disorder can cause hypertension. Treating circadian rhythm disorders can help lower blood pressure.”
Najjar says besides patients experiencing the side effects of a disrupted circadian rhythm there are side effects to sleep deprivation also.
Sleep deprivation affects hormones as well which can lead to body weight and body mass index issues. Gastrointestinal tract problems can surface and it can also cause insulin sensitivity which can lead to diabetes. A patient’s body can also become resistant to treatment.
“Many patients are sleep deprived because when they do sleep, it’s not adequate sleep. This affects their level of alertness and they can become accident-prone,” says Najjar. “If a patient’s shift work schedule rotates, or they sleep with a different pattern on their days off, it’s like having continual jet lag —the circadian system never gets the chance to fully catch up.”
The process of adjusting the internal clock with cues from the environment is called entrainment. Light is a stimulant and can effectively re-align one’s circadian rhythm.
Mohideen says some patients take medication or melatonin to assist in the readjustment process.
Melatonin is a body clock hormone that chemically causes drowsiness and lowers the body temperature in preparation for sleep.