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Circadian Rhythms

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Each day, when the sun rises and sets, mammals and plants alike conform together with a celestial rhythm that instructs the activities of the day. The human body, along with nearly all other mammals, endogenously oscillates on a rhythm that coincides with these daily activities. However, when mammals are placed in an environment void of nearly all outside influences, also known as zeitgebers, these rhythms continue to run at specified intervals. Thus, the endogenous rhythm must be governed by an internal “master clock.” This master clock has been discovered to be the suprachiasmatic nuclei which are located in the anterior portion of the hypothalamus. Circadian rhythms are endogenous rhythms that mammals and plants exhibit. The term “circadian” was established in the 1950’s and is derived from the Latin prefix circa- which means “approximately,” and dies- which means “day.”

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Circadian rhythms are physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle. They respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism's environment. Sleeping at night and being awake during the day is an example of a light-related circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms are found in most living things, including animals, plants, and many tiny microbes. The study of circadian rhythms is called chronobiology. Biological clocks are an organism’s innate timing device. They’re composed of specific molecules (proteins) that interact in cells throughout the body. Biological clocks are found in nearly every tissue and organ. Researchers have identified similar genes in people, fruit flies, mice, fungi, and several other organisms that are responsible for making the clock’s components

Circadian rhythms help determine our sleep patterns. The body’s master clock, or SCN, controls the production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy. It receives information about incoming light from the optic nerves, which relay information from the eyes to the brain. When there is less light—like at night—the SCN tells the brain to make more melatonin so you get drowsy. Researchers are studying how shift work as well as exposure to light from mobile devices during the night may alter circadian rhythms and sleep-wake cycles. People get jet lag when travel disrupts their circadian rhythms. When you pass through different time zones, your biological clocks will be different from the local time. For example, if you fly east from California to New York, you “lose” 3 hours. When you wake up at 7:00 a.m. on the east coast, your biological clocks are still running on west coast time, so you feel the way you might feel at 4:00 a.m. Your biological clocks will reset, but this often takes a few days.

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Much of the current science on, and mathematical modeling of, dynamic changes in human performance within and between days is dominated by the two-process model of sleep–wake regulation, which posits a neurobiological drive for sleep that varies homeostatically (increasing as a saturating exponential during wakefulness and decreasing in a like manner during sleep), and a circadian process that neurobiologically modulates both the homeostatic drive for sleep and waking alertness and performance (Barclay NL, 2013). Endogenous circadian rhythms in neurobehavioral functions, including physiological alertness and cognitive performance, have been demonstrated using special laboratory protocols that reveal the interaction of the biological clock with the sleep homeostatic drive. Individual differences in circadian rhythms and genetic and other components underlying such differences also influence waking neurobehavioral functions. Both acute total sleep deprivation and chronic sleep restriction increase homeostatic sleep drive and degrade waking neurobehavioral functions as reflected in sleepiness, attention, cognitive speed, and memory

Recent evidence indicating a high degree of stability in neurobehavioral responses to sleep loss suggests that these trait-like individual differences are phenotypic and likely involve genetic components, including circadian genes. Recent experiments have revealed both sleep homeostatic and circadian effects on brain metabolism and neural activation. Investigation of the neural and genetic mechanisms underlying the dynamically complex interaction between sleep homeostasis and circadian systems is beginning (Katzenberg D, Young T, Finn L, 1998). A key goal of this work is to identify biomarkers that accurately predict human performance in situations in which the circadian and sleep homeostatic systems are perturbed.

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In brief, disruption of circadian rhythms in the SCN and peripheral clock tissues can result in dysbiosis. Once further research involving human as test subjects, and more factors that may effect metabolic function are studied, results may be able to aid in treating detrimental metabolic disorders in today’s society

For now, the reviewed research gives us further knowledge into the complexity of metabolism and its integration with circadian rhythmicity.

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Barclay NL, Gregory AM. Quantitative genetic research on sleep: a review of normal sleep, sleep disturbances and associated emotional, behavioural, and health-related difficulties. Sleep Med Rev. 2013

Takahashi JS, Hong HK, Ko CH, McDearmon EL. The genetics of mammalian circadian order and disorder: implications for physiology and disease. Nat Rev Genet. 2008

Katzenberg D, Young T, Finn L, Lin L, King DP, Takahashi JS. A CLOCK polymorphism associated with human diurnal preference. Sleep. 1998

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