Brain; Discovery

New Understanding of the Importance of Circadian Rhythms

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Dr. Joseph Takahashi, Chair of Neuroscience at UT Southwestern

Daylight saving time might be a brain health hazard, according to UT Southwestern O’Donnell Brain Institute scientist Dr. Joseph Takahashi.

One of the world’s leading experts on circadian rhythms, Dr. Takahashi discovered the first gene in mammals known to regulate our bodies’ internal clocks, the CLOCK gene. According to Dr. Takahashi, every cell in our bodies keeps track of the time, and any disruption to our daily patterns can have health consequences.

“It is now well established that waking up even an hour earlier adds to stress on our body and sleep deprivation,” Dr. Takahashi says.  “Imagine what is happening in the brain and body when our circadian rhythms have to deal with bigger disruptions.”

Dr. Takahashi says there should be no dispute about the negative health effects of delaying sunrise and sunset from a scientific standpoint. He points out that desynchronized body clocks are linked to greater health risks such as obesity, heart attack, cancer, and depression.

He also notes research showing that the further west one lives in a particular time zone (where it will be lighter later and darker earlier), the higher the incidences of cancer in the population.

“There may be multiple factors that contribute to these findings,” Dr. Takahashi says. “But many scientists believe the disruption of the optimal phasing of our circadian rhythms – the timing of our rhythms relative to the phase of the solar day-night cycle – is a prime culprit.”

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