What is the Circadian Rhythm (Part III)?

By Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP

Your Rhythm Might be Different than Others

While all humans have a circadian rhythm of 24 hours, your alignment is probably different than your friends’. People who feel energized later in the day are sometimes called night owls. Their built-in circadian rhythm is different from that of “morning people.” The technical term for whether someone is a morning or night person is their chronotype, and it seems to be genetic. If you are a night owl, then likely people in your immediate family are, too. Your chronotype might alter with your age, but it is rare for someone to completely change from a morning person to a night owl, or vice versa.

Circadian Rhythm Alters with Age

While you cannot change your chronotype, your peak energy time will alter with age, which is why parents and their children differ in their most energetic hours. On average, young children experience high energy in the early morning, while teenagers peak in the afternoon. A common complaint from parents is how difficult it is to get teenagers up in the morning, but this isn’t just laziness – it’s their circadian rhythm. Some schools have even changed their schedules to allow teenage students to attend later in the day, which can improve information retention and learning. During adulthood, the circadian rhythm settles into your chronotype.

Circadian Rhythm Disorders

In medical science, abnormal circadian cycles fall under the category of circadian rhythm disorders (CRD). These are separated into two groups based on what causes the condition. External changes cause extrinsic CRDs. For example, a person who works the night shift is not getting much daylight, and this will affect her circadian rhythm. Intrinsic CRDs are more serious because the problem is internal. Emotional, hormonal, or genetic complications can cause these disorders.

The conditions linked to CRD include

  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  Heart disease

  Cancer

  Metabolic syndrome

  Insulin resistance (diabetes)

  Cognitive dysfunction

  Obesity

Your homework from the Care Ministry this week: Identify how circadian rhythm might affect your health.

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