It is a well-known fact that nearly 1/3rd of our lifetime is spent for sleep. The quality of the sleep is equally important as the quantity. People who have odd working hours such as drivers, shift workers and astronauts suffer from chronic sleep deprivation that is responsible for fatigue and other health disorders.
Studies conducted on reindeer in the North Polar Region have for the first time shed light on various aspects of sleep disorders. Researchers from the University of Tromso have been working on the research project for a long time.
Reindeer possess a very weak body clock unlike humans. This makes them insensitive to the 24-hour cycle of light and darkness. Because of the same reason, these animals face difficulty in coping up with constant daylight during the summer and darkness during winter.
Other methods of indication, in addition to their body clocks would be required for effective adaptation of these animals to the alternating extremes of light and darkness. An analysis was done on two different species of reindeer; Rangifer tarandus platyrhynchus that lives in the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard and Rangifer tarandus tarandus in Northern Norway.
Surprisingly, these two species that had to survive the extremes of light and darkness had a complete shut down of their biological clocks. A complete loss of circadian activity was seen in these sub-species that were exposed to normal daylight and darkness for a period of just 18 months.
This observation has for the first time suggested a possibility of an on/off mechanism of the body clock, which can be adjusted to remain active or inactive depending on the climatic condition.
It has been suggested that if by some means this effect (switching off the biological clock) is induced in individuals with altered sleep patterns, then perhaps the disruptions to the daily routine can be minimized to the maximum possible extent.
"By looking at what the 'natives' [reindeer and other Arctic animals] do, we may learn something that can be of importance in finding a cure for human problems. In fact, one anecdotal cure for sleep disturbances during shift work and in the Arctic winter is to let your body run at its own pace for a while, don't force it, and it will eventually catch up, said Dr Stokkank, one of the senior researchers involved in the study.
More studies are clearly indicated to better understand and treat sleep disorders in the future. With studies such as these offering valuable clues, there seems a ray of hope in the much-neglected area of sleep disorder.