Outline the Circadian Rhythm (8)

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The Circadian rhythm is a daily cycle of biological activity based on a 24-hour period and influenced by regular variations in the environment, such as the alternation of night and day. Circadian rhythms include sleeping and waking in animals and flowers closing and opening. The 24-hour sleep–waking cycle is a good example of a circadian rhythm because it clearly illustrates that circadian rhythms depend on an interaction of physiological and psychological processes. Our fairly consistent sleep pattern suggests an internal or endogenous mechanism—the biological clock. But this can be overridden by psychological factors such as anxiety. An endogenous (internal) clock (or set of clocks) is proposed as some sort of innate mechanism that sets the timing of biological rhythms. Their “tick” may be a 24-hour one, which is the case for the sleep–wake cycle, an 8-hour one, which is the case for the rhythms of sleep or even a 12-month one, as in patterns of hibernation. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) is the pacemaker of the biological clock in the sleep–wake cycle. The SCN generates its own innate biological rhythm due to protein synthesis. It is connected to the optic chiasm and so receives input about the amount of light (an exogenous or external factor), which also influences the rhythm. Therefore, light stimulates nerve impulses which travel from the eye, along the optic nerve to the brain. The pineal gland is linked to the SCN by a neural pathway and so the electrical stimulation of the SCN is transferred to the pineal gland and this causes it to release melatonin. Light and melatonin are inversely proportional, i.e. when light levels are low high amounts of melatonin are released. Melatonin is a hormone that induces sleep because it enhances production of the neurotransmitter serotonin and this causes the nervous system to slow down, brain activity consequently falls, and sleep begins. With regards to exogenous factors, light is the key external factor which...
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