Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock

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teens the strongest circadian “dips” tend to occur between 3:00-7:00 am and 2:00-5:00 pm, but the morning dip (3:00-7:00 am) can be even longer if teens haven’t had enough sleep, and can even last until 9:00 or 10:00 am.

The circadian biological clock is controlled by a part of the brain called the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN), a group of cells in the hypothalamus that respond to light and dark signals. From the optic nerve of the eye, light travels to the SCN, signaling the internal clock that it is time to be awake. The SCN signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us feel sleepy or awake.

In the mornings, with exposure to light, the SCN sends signals to raise body temperature and produce hormones like cortisol. The SCN also responds to light by delaying the release of other hormones like melatonin, which is associated with sleep onset and is produced when the eyes signal to the SCN that it is dark. Melatonin levels rise in the evening and stay elevated throughout the night, promoting sleep.

In teenagers, research has shown that melatonin levels in the blood naturally rise later at night than in most children and adults. Since teens may have difficulty going to bed early to get enough sleep, it can help to keep the lights dim at night as bedtime approaches. It can also help to get into bright light as soon as possible in the morning.

Circadian disruptions such as jet lag put us in conflict with our natural sleep patterns, since the shift in time and light cues on the brain forces the body to alter its normal pattern to adjust. This is why jet lag can leave travelers feeling poorly and having more difficulty thinking and performing well. But these symptoms can also occur in everyday life, when the circadian rhythm is disrupted by keeping long and irregular hours. Because of this, it is important to keep a regular sleep schedule and allow plenty of time for quality sleep,