Levels of numerous hormones vary across the day and night. Such fluctuations are not only attributable to changes in sleep/wakefulness and other behaviors but also to a circadian timing system governed by the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. Sleep has a strong effect on levels of some hormones such as growth hormone but little effect on others which are more strongly regulated by the circadian timing system (e.g., melatonin). Whereas the exact mechanisms through which sleep affects circulating hormonal levels are poorly understood, more is known about how the circadian timing system influences the secretion of hormones. The suprachiasmatic nucleus exerts its influence on hormones via neuronal and humoral signals but it is now also apparent that peripheral tissues contain circadian clock proteins, similar to those in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, that are also involved in hormone regulation. Under normal circumstances, behaviors and the circadian timing system are synchronized with an optimal phase relationship and consequently hormonal systems are exquisitely regulated. However, many individuals (e.g., shift-workers) frequently and/or chronically undergo circadian misalignment by desynchronizing their sleep/wake and fasting/feeding cycle from the circadian timing system. Recent experiments indicate that circadian misalignment has an adverse effect on metabolic and hormonal factors such as circulating glucose and insulin. Further research is needed to determine the underlying mechanisms that cause the negative effects induced by circadian misalignment. Such research could aid the development of novel countermeasures for circadian misalignment.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.