There are no two people who have the same level of sleep drive and alertness. Sleep drive is closely related to your body’s natural clock and varies from one person to another. There are two systems in your body that determine this drive: Sleep/wake cycle and the circadian clock.
Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock: Sleep/Wake Cycle
After staying awake for along time or working all day, it is the sleep/wake cycle that “calculates” lost sleep and “reminds” you to sleep. The sleep/wake cycle also maintains sleep all night. It is responsible for wakefulness during the day. In simple terms, sleep/wake cycle determines when to sleep and stay awake. If this cycle is damage, drive for sleep is affected in the following ways:
- Difficulty in determining when to sleep or stay awake.
- You have problems maintaining sleep.
- You experience day time sleepiness.
Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock: Circadian Rhythms
The circadian biological clock determine the exact time when you sleep or stay awake. Circadian rhythm/clock differs from the sleep/wake cycle in that the latter is more of a behavior while the former is deeply embedded biologically in the body. They are both vital for sleep drive.
The influence of the circadian clock on sleep drive is not the same all day. Sleep drive as a result of circadian rhythm is strongest from about 2 -4 am. This probably proves the popular myth that sleep is sweetest from 2 am. During the day, this drive is strongest from 1 to 3 am. Again, this is consistent with the time many people nap.
If you get enough and quality sleep at night, the circadian rhythm has less influence on the 1-3 sleep drive. In teenage, circadian rhythm controlled sleep drive changes naturally. This makes teens to find it difficult to sleep be for 11 pm. This can bring about a challenge since teens have to wake up early for school.
Sleep drive in teenagers is strongest between 2-5 am during the day. At night, it is strong between 3-7 am. If adequate measures to ensure good sleep are not taken, teens can be sleep deprived.
Sleep Drive and Your Body Clock The Brain
Your body’s sleep clock is controlled by the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN). SCN is the part of the brain that responds to light and dark. In darkness (at night or evening), drive to sleep is strong because SCN produces signals that increase the levels of the sleep hormone melatonin in blood. The signals also lower body temperature that is ideal for sleep.
In light, SCN ensure than body temperature remain high so as to keep you alert. At around 9 in the morning, all production of melatonin is stopped by SCN. Other hormones like cortisol are produced to reduce this drive.
Tips on How to Increase Sleep Drive
- Your bedroom environment should be optimized for sleep. It should be dark and cool to increase drive to sleep.
- Establish sleep habits that “remind” the body to sleep.
- It is increased for people who sleep and wake up at the same time everyday.
- Get exposed to light preferably sunlight during the day.
- Make your naps short. Nap early in the afternoon and definitely not after 5 pm. This can confuse the natural sleep clock.
- Cut down on drinks in hours leading to bedtime.