How Disrupted Circadian Rhythms Affect the Body and Mind?

A research study presented at Neuroscience 2009, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in October helps in gaining a deeper understanding on the way the body and mind are affected by disturbed circadian rhythms.

Circadian rhythms are found in most living things. They are produced by genetic factors in the body which follow a 24 hour cycle—our internal clock. These rhythms maintain our sleep cycle, hormonal system, temperature and several other bodily functions.

Weight gain, impulsive behavior, delayed thinking process and a reduction in the size of the brain are some of the consequences of a cycle disruption. The study by Rockefeller University researchers was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Institute of Mental Health, and Sepracor.

Knowledge Gained from Research on Disrupted Circadian Rhythms:

  • Circadian rhythms determine human sleep cycles. When sleep cycles are disrupted studies report; excessive daytime sleepiness, problems with concentration and memory, irritability, fatigue, stroke, pulmonary hypertension and high blood pressure.
  • In mice, disrupted day-night cycle mice were less active, more impulsive, with a reduced flexibility of the mind, changes in body temperature cycles, hormonal changes related to appetite and increased insulin levels.
  • Such disruption also brought changes in brain size by shrinking it and causing behavioral changes in mice.
  • Predisposes humans to a range of mood disorders, impulsiveness, seasonal affective disorder and depression.

Significance of the Research on Disrupted Circadian Rhythms:

Light at night is the greatest factor disturbing this cycle. In addition, to have ample sleep during the night is crucial for body and mind.  During sleep a series of physiological events take place including, cellular repair, mental recovery and hormone release. These events are programmed to occur at a specific moment of the cycle to provide adequate rest and prepare the body for the day’s activities.

Though it is unrealistic to say that we should stop night work shifts and travelling at night, awareness of the possible health fallouts may compel us to plan our schedules appropriately. Striking a balance between health aspects and work obligations is the need of the hour than ever before.



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