You may remember that the 2017 Nobel Prize for Medicine was awarded to three Americans for their understanding of the biological clock, or ”circadian clock”. This biological clock plays a major role in sleep. It regulates how naturally awake we are throughout the day. With sleep pressure, it is one of the two biological mechanisms responsible for the desire to go to sleep in the evening. Unfortunately, respect for these mechanisms is not always enough. For many people, additional factors (stress, overwork, depression, etc.) can delay or disturb sleep.
Hence the massive consumption of sleeping pills, despite well-known side effects.
Your body is a clock
Numerous biological settings, such as body temperature, heart rate or secretion of the main sleep hormones (cortisol and melatonin), follow natural 24-hour cycles.
This is no coincidence: our body is genetically programmed to follow a rhythm of approximately 24 hours. This is called the “circadian clock” or “biological clock”, determined by a set of genes called “period genes”. It also regulates sleep. And not just a little.
Genetics, really? Here is the proof.
In 1962, Michel Siffre, a 23-year old geologist, conducted the first long-term isolation experiment inside an underground glacier in the Alps. Plunged into darkness for 58 days, he was deprived of any spatiotemporal markers. However, he continued to sleep for eight hours every 24 hours or so… This is proof that sleep is a genetic cycle!
An innate, but also acquired rhythm: that is our biological clock
This cycle of genetic sleep is about 24 hours long but it can vary slightly from one individual to another. An “early bird” (one-third of the population) will have a cycle just under 24 hours. Conversely, a “night owl” (16%) will have a natural cycle that’s a little longer. If everyone only followed their own genetic cycle, they would gradually shift and life in society would become difficult. Fortunately, our circadian clock is more complex and flexible than that! It can also be influenced by other factors: environment (light, temperature, etc.) or social (physical activity, meals, etc.). They are called “synchronizers”, or “time setters”. They keep everything on track, thus the importance of using them wisely, in case of jet lag, for example.
Conclusion: Master your synchronizers.
As they influence our circadian clock, these synchronizers (regular meals, exposure to light, etc.) allow us to adjust to the social time (24 hours). And more importantly, they follow the coherent sleep/awake pattern of the environment and are thus conducive to sleep.
On the other hand, if these same synchronizers are used incorrectly, they can disrupt our circadian clock, and disturb our sleep. This is the case with light. Synonymous with “day” for the body, it inhibits the secretion of melatonin, one of the main sleep hormones. Exposing oneself to a screen before sleep can cause difficulties when falling asleep.
It is easy to go wrong when mastering synchronizers. Moreover, most people aren’t aware of them all or don’t know how to manage them. The Dreem headband gives you personalized advice that lets you control your synchronizers and change lifestyle habits to improve your sleep.
Respecting your biological clock is essential for achieving quality sleep. As we said, a second equally important biological mechanism regulates sleep: the “homeostatic process”, or “sleep pressure”. We explain that here.