Entrainment of the human circadian system by light

J Biol Rhythms. 2005 Aug;20(4):326-38. doi: 10.1177/0748730405277983.


The periodic light-dark cycle is the dominant environmental synchronizer used by humans to entrain to the geophysical 24-h day. Entrainment is a fundamental property of circadian systems by which the period of the internal clock (tau) is synchronized to the period of the entraining stimuli (T cycle). An important aspect of entrainment in humans is the maintenance of an appropriate phase relationship between the circadian system, the timing of sleep and wakefulness, and environmental time (a.k.a. the phase angle of entrainment) to maintain wakefulness throughout the day and consolidated sleep at night. In this article, we review these concepts and the methods for assessing circadian phase and period in humans, as well as discuss findings on the phase angle of entrainment in healthy adults. We review findings from studies that examine how the phase, intensity, duration, and spectral characteristics of light affect the response of the human biological clock and discuss studies on entrainment in humans, including recent studies of the minimum light intensity required for entrainment. We briefly review conditions and disorders in which failure of entrainment occurs. We provide an integrated perspective on circadian entrainment in humans with respect to recent advances in our knowledge of circadian period and of the effects of light on the biological clock in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Clocks
  • Circadian Rhythm* / radiation effects
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Lighting
  • Periodicity