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Semin Perinatol. 2000 Aug;24(4):247-57.

Influence of light in the NICU on the development of circadian rhythms in preterm infants.

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Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA 94305-5119, USA.


The fetal biological clock is an endogenous clock capable of generating circadian rhythms and responding to maternal entraining signals. By at least the third trimester of pregnancy fetal diurnal rhythms are entrainable by maternal day-night rhythms. Maternal illness during pregnancy and premature birth are obvious clinical factors that may adversely affect circadian rhythm development. Premature birth of the fetus has a most dramatic impact on maternal fetal interactions. The effect on biorhythms appears to be temporary and is greatest on the most immature infants. The results to date support the importance of fetal circadian rhythms and the relative lack of these rhythms in the preterm infant. It is well known that growth and development in the prematurely born infant are influenced by a multitude of factors; clearly, the neonatal intensive care unit is not a surrogate for the maternal placental unit. This article reviews what is known about circadian development in the human infant with an emphasis on the unique circumstances of the preterm infant. The research on the short- and long-term effects of environmental interventions on circadian, sleep, and neurologic development is discussed. Although an earlier onset of circadian development did not result with cycled lighting in the neonatal nursery, there may still be important biological effects that have not been studied. There are sufficient data to state that there is no reason for continuing a chaotic, noncircadian environmental approach for the care of the prematurely born infant.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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