There’s something inside you called the circadian rhythm. And it has final say on when you tire out.

We do it every night. We need it to get through every day. But what do we really know about sleeping and how it actually works? If you have trouble nodding off at night, maybe it’s time to get in touch with your circadian rhythm. That’s the technical term for our internal body clock. It regulates the 24-hour daily cycle of all biological processes. In its simplest form, your brain wants to sleep when it’s dark out and be awake when it’s light.

There’s more to waking up refreshed than lying down and closing your eyes.

Understanding the mechanics of your internal body clock and different stages of sleep is one step towards getting your sleep schedule back on track. Cues such as daylight and regularly scheduled activity, such as work and eating, have a powerful influence on how tired or awake we feel. All the lifestyle choices we make help set our own personal circadian rhythms. Just like your wristwatch, your internal body clock can get knocked off schedule.

Understanding the stages of sleep

Between the moment you lie down in bed until your alarm clock goes off in the morning you pass through five stages of sleep, moving between deep sleep, alert stages and dreaming.

Stage 1: Drowsiness
Lasting 5-10 minutes, you drift in and out of consciousness and can be awakened very easily. Your eyes move slowly and muscle activity begins to slow. This is the stage where you can be easily awakened.

Stage 2: Light Sleep
Eye movement stops, heart rate slows and body temperature decreases.

Stage 3: Deep Sleep
During this stage the brain is completely at rest, which allows us to restore the energy we expend during the day. All eye movement and muscle activity ceases and not only is it very difficult to wake someone from deep sleep, but if you do they’ll feel groggy and disoriented for several minutes.

Stage 4: Intense Deep Sleep
Very similar to stage 3, but more intense. This is the last and deepest stage before REM sleep.

REM Period: Dream Sleep

The well-known Rapid Eye Movement stage is experienced three to five times per night and occurs at about 70 to 90 minutes into the sleep cycle. During REM sleep breathing becomes more rapid, irregular and shallow, the heart rate increases and blood pressure rises. This is the stage associated with processing emotions, retaining memories and relieving stress.

Disrupting the circadian rhythm.

While some people are naturally early risers or night owls, disruptions in a person's sleep-wake cycle are more serious and may cause Circadian Rhythm Disorders. These disturbances may be caused by many factors, such as shift work, pregnancy, time zone changes, medications or drastic changes in routine. Circadian Rhythm Disorders should be taken seriously, and you should consult your doctor if you think you have one.

Winding your internal clock.

There are a number of things you can do if your sleep-wake cycle is out of harmony.

Behavior therapy, such as the My-Coach Sleep Workshop, is one way to help reset your internal clock. It works by teaching you about bad sleep habits and how to develop good ones.

Bright light therapy is a professional technique that advances or delays your sleep schedule based on your sleep problems. By being exposed to high intensity light for multiple sessions, your body learns to feel more awake at a different time. Consult a professional if you’re interested in pursuing bright light therapy.

Melatonin is a naturally occurring sleep aid inside all living creatures and one of the primary agents that helps regulate the sleep-wake cycle. Its production is inhibited by daylight and permitted by darkness.

For more simple and natural tips to reset your circadian rhythm to be more in sync with the rest of the world, check out some of our other Sleep Resources and give the My-Coach Sleep Workshop a shot. You may be surprised at how close you could be to getting a better night’s sleep.



Uninterrupted slumber is better sleep. Train yourself to get up on the first ring.