CET has a rich and varied assortment of content for visitors, from curious members of the public to scholars who want access to landmark papers. However, our take-home message is simple. For as long as people have existed, our lives revolved around the sun. We rose at sunrise, more or less, and we retired at night. With the advent of candles, we might have stayed up a little later. However, our brains developed physiological systems in tune with a twenty-four-hour day, and we followed patterns of activity and rest in harmony with them.
Increasingly, however, western society has strayed from the simple circadian rhythms of our ancestors. Due to electricity on demand, 24/7 shopping, and jet lag from flights spanning continents, our natural cycles of rest and motion are no longer in sync with nature. With shift work, the disjunctions between the natural inner clock, and the demands of an arbitrary outside clock dictating when we should be active, are marked. For the graveyard shift, the difference between inner and outer clocks is so huge, and the disruption to the inner clock so serious, that the World Health Organization considers the graveyard shift a carcinogen.
How can we safeguard our health in a society where the unanticipated consequences of the industrial revolution exact a toll on our moods, sleep, and energy level? Human beings have taken two basic approaches to answering this problem. These two approaches are often diammetrically opposed, although sometimes they can work together.
The Commonsense Approach
The commonsense approach recognizes that many problems are caused by a disjunction between inner and outer clocks, and it focuses on healing the disharmony between the two clocks using natural means. These methods often involve using elements we are familiar with, especially light and sleep, and sometimes light boxes, and adjusting them in ways that have been shown in systematic research to correct imbalances.
Even everyday modern objects can be tweaked using commonsense solutions arising from our knowledge of the inner clock. For example, you can install a free program on your computer so that the monitor no longer emits bright white light – a kind of light that is energizing – close to bed-time. Thus, you will no longer receive the equivalent of some daylight sun, telling your body to stay awake, when you want to finish with the computer as soon as possible, and go straight to sleep.
CET takes this commonsense approach, and you can find a great deal of information about the research behind this approach, and the solutions it generates, on our website. Check our:
- e-books and fact sheets, such as Why Seniors Have Sleep Problems and How to Fix Them, which are brimming with practical advice
- Ask the Experts feature, which lets you read the answers experts have given other people, and ask a question of your own
- specialty pages on particular topics, such as Bedtime for Children, and Sleep and Time in Our Own Backyards and Around the World
- recommended reading for the public, and for professionals, with links to content outside our site.
Additional resources for professionals include:
- videos on chronotherapy
- cautions and standards for light therapy
- scientific and clinical literature, an introduction to the science of circadian rhythms, and the application of this science to treat select problems of sleep, mood, and energy, with introductions to sixteen topics in the field. These short introductions, written to be accessible to the public and scholars alike, are followed by references for scholars. The reference – key books, papers, and studies, culled from from thousands of scientific sources – are landmarks in the field.
The Pharmaceutical Approach
The pharmaceutical approach to problems of mood, sleep, and energy has tended to ignore whether the difficulty is caused by a disruption in circadian rhythms. Instead, depression, for example, may be treated with medication regardless of the cause. Thus a syndrome, such as seasonal affective disorder, which might be treated by helping people with their circadian rhythms, is often diagnosed simply as depression, and treated with antidepressants. This means the larger context of the problem is ignored, and the patient receives undifferentiated treatment, rather than addressing the underlying cause.
Zeroing in on symptoms, rather than considering the total picture, fits the hectic schedule of today’s psychiatrists. Such myopia also reflects advertising campaigns for both physicians and patients, which feature drugs, despite their poorly targeted action, as the solution for the broad palette of common psychological and psychiatric problems. Many of us hope for a magic bullet, and it is tempting to believe the bullet is a pill. However, while drugs may often bring relief – or at least partial relief, as in the typical case of antidepressants – they often carry burdensome side effects, and may not be in a patient’s best interest. The enlightened clinician will discuss both pharmacological and non-pharmacological options with patients.
CET clinicians sometimes use, and recommend, a combination of natural methods with medication, depending on each individual’s unique symptom picture, history of treatment response, and life situation. Our website will rarely mention pharmaceutical approaches alone, however, since the pharmaceutical industry has shown it is quite capable of promoting its products without help.