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"Join the Sleep World, Preserve your rhythms to enjoy life”. This is the slogan of this week’s World Sleep Day, but what exactly are our rhythms, why should we preserve them, and how do we do it?

Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour rhythms that control many aspects of our behaviour, physiology and metabolism. These rhythms are generated automatically by a clock in the brain and are synchronised to the 24-hour day by the daily light-dark cycle. Examples of circadian rhythms include the sleep-wake cycle, daily patterns of alertness, mood and performance, hormones such as melatonin and cortisol, and many other processes including digestion, heart rate, body temperature and lung function.

Changes to sleep-wake cycles or exposure to light can interfere with these rhythms, the consequences of which can be life-changing, or even fatal. The understanding and management of circadian rhythms is of growing importance in today’s society, made more apparent by the award of the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young, which recognised their discoveries of the genes that create and control circadian rhythms. Maintaining stable circadian rhythms is key to good health: If we continually disrupt our rhythms, for example through shift work or burning the midnight oil, then we increase the risk of sleep disorders, mental health disorders and chronic health issues such as obesity, diabetes, and even some cancers, which can leave us struggling to enjoy life.

So how exactly can we preserve our rhythms?

The best way to manage your body clock is by keeping a regular schedule. Professor Steven Lockley, Program Leader at the Cooperative Research Centre for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC), is a circadian rhythms expert. He recommends that we try to sleep and wake at the same time each day, and in particular think about how we expose ourselves to light.

“Light is the most powerful time cue for resetting and synchronising our 24-hour rhythms,” Professor Lockley said. “Exposure to a regular light-dark cycle – bright days and dark nights – is vital in helping to maintain a regular cycle. Try and get as much daylight exposure in the daytime but then sleep in as dark a room as possible, or use an eye mask, to create a large day-night contrast. After dusk, for as long as possible before bed, dim the lights or use ‘warm’-looking, low CCT, blue-depleted lights to help signal the brain to sleep. Stability is key”.

Of course, this isn’t always easily achieved, particularly for those who need to sleep during the day.

“The ASA, the Alertness CRC, and the Sleep Heath Foundation are all looking to help inform occupational health and safety strategies to reduce circadian rhythm disruption from shift work, and fatigue from excessive work hours,” Associate Professor Siobhan Banks, Board Member, Sleep Health Foundation said. “For example, there are currently 394 deaths a year caused by people falling asleep at the wheel of a vehicle, or from industrial accidents, due to lack of sleep. We are all working towards the introduction of restrictions on driving when fatigued, so that, together, we can reduce this figure and help keep Australian people safe.”

Research suggests that sound sleep is one of the three pillars of good health along with a balanced diet and regular exercise. Sleep health and preserving rhythms is indeed fundamental to our life experiences, as Dr Amy Reynolds, co-Chair of the Chronobiology Council and Chair of the Behavioural Management of Sleep Disorders Committee at the Australasian Sleep Association confirms.

“We all know that feeling when we haven’t had enough sleep – we are fatigued, unproductive, far from alert, and open to mental and physical illness. This year’s World Sleep Day is taking us back to the biological basics, which we can all address to ensure that we remain alert, productive, safe, healthy and, importantly, happy in life.”

As Dr Reynolds highlights, preserving circadian rhythms is the responsibility of each individual, but employers also have the additional responsibility of ensuring the wellbeing of their staff through circadian-friendly work schedules, enhanced workplace lighting and even starting occupational screening programs for sleep disorders.

“There are many actions that can be taken to ensure that we remain alert, productive, healthy, and enjoying life to the full,” Professor Lockley said. “The WorkAlert website offers plenty of science-driven tips and knowledge, including how to manage your light-dark cycles, to help you conquer the challenges of staying alert in a busy world, providing advice on how you – as an employer or employee – can keep yourself and your workplace safe.”

About World Sleep Day

World Sleep Day is an annual event, intended to be a celebration of sleep and a call to action on important issues related to sleep, including medicine, education, social aspects and driving. It is organised by the World Sleep Day Committee of World Sleep Society (founded by WASM and WSF) and aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. World Sleep Day is held the Friday before Spring Vernal Equinox of each year.

About Sleep Health Foundation
The Sleep Health Foundation is Australia’s leading advocate for sleep health. The Foundation aims to improve people’s sleep and their lives by promoting healthy sleep, raising awareness of sleep disorders and building partnerships with organisations. Free, independent, expert-reviewed fact sheets on every aspect of sleep are available at

About the CRC for Alertness, Safety and Productivity (Alertness CRC)
The Alertness CRC is an industry focused research program committed to maximising alertness in the workplace. The mission of the Alertness CRC is to 1) Promote the prevention and control of sleep loss and sleep disorders, and 2) Develop new tools and products for individuals and organisations to improve alertness, productivity and safety.

About the Australasian Sleep Association (ASA)
The ASA is the peak scientific body in Australia and New Zealand representing clinicians, scientists and researchers in the broad area of Sleep. Our vision is the provision of world standard research, education and training, and establishment of clinical standards to ensure clinical best practice in sleep medicine resulting in an informed community with healthy sleep practices. ASA is registered as a Health Promotion Charity, enabling donors to claim tax deductions for any donations to the Association.

Media contact and further details:

Lucy Williams on 0403 753 028

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