Circadian (daily) rhythms in physiology and behavior are phylogenetically ancient and are present in almost all plants and animals. In mammals, these rhythms are generated by a master circadian clock in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which in turn synchronizes "peripheral oscillators" throughout the brain and body in almost all cell types and organ systems. Although circadian rhythms are phylogenetically ancient, modern industrialized society and the ubiquity of electric lighting has resulted in a fundamental alteration in the relationship between an individual's endogenous circadian rhythmicity and the external environment. The ramifications of this desynchronization for mental and physical health are not fully understood, although numerous lines of evidence are emerging that link defects in circadian timing with negative health outcomes. This article explores the function of the circadian system, the effects of disrupted clocks on the brain and body, and how these effects impact mental and physical health.