Circadian Rhythms

The timing and rhythmicity of the sleep-wake cycle is matched to the solar day-night cycle in humans. This rhythmical pattern is generated internally but is modified by environmental factors, in particular the light-dark cycle. The endogenous nature of the circadian rhythm is verified by the persistence of these rhythms when environmental conditions are held constant. For example, a human kept in isolation without access to a clock or a periodic light-dark cycle will maintain a regular sleep-wake cycle. Although the rhythm is maintained, the periodicity of the sleep wake cycle under this free-running condition is approximately 25 hours. However, under the influence of the environmental light-dark cycle, this rhythm is entrained to 24-hour solar day. The environmental cues that are able to entrain the internal clock mechanism are called Zeitgebers. The most potent Zeitgeber for sleep-wake rhythms in most organisms is light.

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