News Headlines Article

Your Body’s Witching Hours
Wall Street Journal

Heart attacks often occur in the morning. Epileptic seizures peak in the late afternoon. Asthma attacks get worse and more deadly between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Researchers are finding that circadian rhythms, which cycle every 24 hours or so, drive virtually every system in the human body, from circulation and cognition to metabolism, memory and mood. And they play a big role in determining when we are most vulnerable to disease.

Chronobiology — the study of these internal clock mechanisms — has exploded in recent years thanks in part to the discovery of specific genes, to which scientists have given names like Clock, Period and Cryptochrome. Those genes help keep our biological systems in sync with light and darkness, which makes for a rush hour of chemical changes at dawn and dusk.

Understanding biorhythms is helping doctors direct treatments, including the best times to take various medications. It is also suggesting new treatment strategies, such as adjusting the light in nursing homes to help people sleep better.