Developing circadian rhythmicity in infants

Pediatrics. 2003 Aug;112(2):373-81. doi: 10.1542/peds.112.2.373.


Circadian rhythms are endogenously generated rhythms with a period length of approximately 24 hours. Evidence gathered during the past decade indicates that the circadian timing system develops prenatally and the suprachiasmatic nuclei, the site of a circadian clock, is present by midgestation in primates. Recent evidence also shows that the circadian system of primate infants is responsive to light at very premature stages and that low-intensity lighting can regulate the developing clock. After birth, there is progressive maturation of the circadian system outputs, with pronounced rhythms in sleep-wake and hormone secretion generally developing after 2 months of age. Showing the importance of photic regulation of circadian phase in infants, exposure of premature infants to low-intensity cycled lighting results in the early establishment of rest-activity patterns that are in phase with the 24-hour light-dark cycle. With the continued elucidation of circadian system development and influences on human physiology and illness, it is anticipated that consideration of circadian biology will become an increasingly important component of neonatal care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Care
  • Infant, Newborn / physiology*
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Light
  • Lighting / adverse effects
  • Primates / physiology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / embryology
  • Suprachiasmatic Nucleus / physiology