Circadian Rhythms

Saturday, August 11, 2012 0 Comments:

These rhythms allow you to know when to sleep and when to eat.

One of the most important aspects of our life 

Circadian rhythms are cyclic and persistent patterns of behavior, physical changes, and mental characteristics exhibited by most life on Earth, from the smallest bacteria to the largest redwood tree. These rhythms roughly follow 24 hour periods, reflecting the amount of time it takes for the Earth to complete a rotation. The study of circadian rhythms and the internal clocks which most creatures seem to have is known as chronobiology. Researchers study circadian rhythms to learn more about life on Earth, and how to treat various conditions such as sleep disorders.

Several characteristics distinguish circadian rhythms. The first is that these changes will be retained through dramatic changes in environmental conditions. For example, an animal in the dark will still manifest periods of increased and decreased activity which correspond with a 24 hour cycle. Repeated input from external stimuli can also reset circadian rhythms, as anyone who has switched time zones is probably aware. In addition, fluctuations in temperature do not appear to impact circadian rhythms.

The Genius behind it's discovery

The term was coined by Franz Halberg, a researcher at the University of Minnesota. Halberg was fascinated by the cyclical patterns of behavior which could be observed in things like plants, which actually slowly move over the course of a day to take advantage of changing light conditions. The word is derived from the Latin words circa, meaning “around,” and dies, for “day.” The study of circadian rhythms links a number of disciplines including chemistry, general biology, genetics, physiology, and even psychology. Halberg is widely regarded as the father of chronobiology, although circadian rhythms have been observed and described since the 1700s.

Humans tend to be most interested in circadian rhythms in terms of how they affect sleep patterns. When humans experience sleep disorders such as insomnia, these problems can sometimes be linked to an imbalance in circadian rhythms which could potentially be fixed. Circadian rhythms also explain why people experience periods of more alertness at certain times of the day, and they dictate when humans feel sleepy or hungry as well.

A clear genetic link to circadian rhythms has been established by researchers, who suggest that these very basic patterns have probably been on Earth almost as long as living organisms have. Primitive bacteria demonstrate circadian patterns, for example. Animals with brains also clearly have an internal biological clock which dictates circadian patterns.

Some Facts

Are circadian rhythms the same thing as biological clocks?

No, but they are related. Our biological clocks drive our circadian rhythms.

What are biological clocks?

The biological clocks that control circadian rhythms are groupings of interacting molecules in cells throughout the body. A “master clock” in the brain coordinates all the body clocks so that they are in synch.

What is the master clock?

The “master clock” that controls circadian rhythms consists of a group of nerve cells in the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, or SCN. The SCN contains about 20,000 nerve cells and is located in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain just above where the optic nerves from the eyes cross.  

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