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The influence of light on circarhythms in humans.

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Environmental Psychology Unit, School of Architecture, Lund Institute of Technology, Sweden.


The present review discusses two types of biological rhythms, namely, circadian rhythms and circannual rhythms. Humans possess a circadian rhythm of approximately 24 hours, which is regulated by neural and hormonal processes. The synchronisation of this rhythm with the solar day and night is maintained through entrainment mainly by light. Dark environments completely lacking windows may have a negative effect on well-being and work capacity. During shift work the biological clock tends to maintain its normal 'diurnal' rhythm, which may lead to extreme tiredness and increased risk of accidents. Negative effects such as these may be partially alleviated by means of bright light during the night. During air travel across several time zones there is little time for the biological clock to adjust, but the resulting 'jet lag' may possibly be overcome by means of appropriately timed exposure to bright light. In countries situated far from the equator, the biological clock may become seriously disrupted during the short days of the dark season. Characterised by fatigue, sadness and sleep problems, these seasonal affective disorders may be cured or alleviated by means of regular periods outdoors, better lighting indoors, or, in the most serious cases, light therapy.

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