The Risks of Disrupted Circadian Rhythms

The Risks of Disrupted Circadian Rhythms


Disrupted circadian rhythms play a bigger role than previously thought in our health.

People who are suffering from medical issues such as dementia, anxiety or bipolar disorder often experience disruptions in sleep. In the past, researchers considered these sleeping problems as side effects of the main issue. But new research, presented at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting, suggests that disrupted sleep itself—problems with the circadian rhythm—may be in fact driving some of the dysfunctional brain health.

The research, presented by a variety of scientists, shows a growing understanding on how irregular circadian rhythms emerge, and how fixing that may alleviate health problems such as Alzheimer’s disease and anxiety disorders. For example, deep, slow-wave sleep is needed to calm overactive brain regions. Sleep deprivation, therefore, can trigger an increase in anxiety when the brain doesn’t get enough of that calming slow-wave sleep state. Another study looked at the role of astrocytes, which are circadian clock genes in brain cells. Disruptions in those cells can cause inflammation and worsen Alzheimer’s.

According to, a good night’s sleep is also essential for your brain to sort and process memories, during a process called consolidation. A good night’s sleep boosts memory and concentration, while sleeping poorly sleep impairs self-control, making it harder to keep emotions in check.

The conference moderator and himself a sleep specialist, Clifford Saper, M.D., Ph.D., of Harvard Medical School, wrote that the studies “help deepen our understanding of why sleep is disrupted in so many patients.” Saper also notes, that the research also suggests “that sleep-focused therapies, such as treatments to regulate circadian rhythms, may be beneficial in the prevention or treatment of a vast array of diseases, including Alzheimer's disease and anxiety disorder, and furthermore emphasize the critical need of good sleep for everyone’s health.”

Just one more reason to prioritize getting some shut eye.

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