Sleep & Circadian Rhythm


“Timing is everything” may be an old cliché, but for Northwestern Medicine scientists it’s also a reflection of emerging discoveries in physiology: that the body’s circadian clocks are in fact critical to driving a host of behaviors, processes and pathways — including those associated with several diseases and pathologies. Northwestern Medicine investigators are exploring the many facets of sleep and circadian rhythm to make broad new discoveries in human health.

Scientific Advances

Joseph Bass, MD, PhD, chief of Endocrinology, Metabolism and Molecular Medicine, focuses his research on illuminating how the body’s clocks regulate feeding behavior and glucose metabolism, and identifies how disruptions in that overarching circadian system play a role in metabolic disease.

Media Coverage


“The main role of circadian rhythm is to anticipate what you’re going to be doing at certain points of the day,” says Kristen Knutson, PhD, associate professor of neurology and sleep medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “When there’s a mismatch and you’re not doing what your biology expects at a certain time, your body may not handle it as well; it may not process food or glucose as rapidly, for example.”

To a lesser extent, it's also all those people who just can't turn off the iPad at night and have to drag themselves out of bed in the morning. Fred Turek , is a circadian scientist at Northwestern University. FRED TUREK: These people are totally out of synchrony. When their body clock is telling them to go to sleep, they have to be awake. And then when they try to go to sleep, their body clock is saying, hey, time to get up.
U.S. News & World Report

The American College of Physicians recommends non-drug methods for sleep improvement as a first line insomnia treatment, study author Jason Ong , of the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a statement. "Helping people cultivate a purpose in life could be an effective drug-free strategy to improve sleep quality, particularly for a population that is facing more insomnia," Ong added. "Purpose in life is something that can be cultivated and enhanced through mindfulness therapies."

Not getting enough sleep or getting poor quality sleep is associated with a lot of negative outcomes, Phyllis Zee , MD, PhD, Chief of Sleep Medicine in the Department of Neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told NBC News BETTER. The bottom line, she says: “If you want to enjoy healthy aging get sufficient sleep and at the right time.”
Huffington Post

With constant research on different ways to curb inconsistent sleeping patterns and disorders, Phyllis Zee, M.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Centre at Northwestern Medicine came up with a study that examined the effect of aerobic exercise on middle-aged and older adults with a diagnosis of insomnia.
Huffington Post

Kelly Glazer Baron, PhD, a clinical psychologist and sleep researcher at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University, examines that same study's findings and remarks on the participants: "For them, exercise and sleep seem to have a relatively uncomplicated relationship. You work out, fatigue your body and mind, and sleep more soundly that night. But people with insomnia and other sleep disturbances tend to be 'neurologically different' ... They have what we characterize as a hyper-arousal of the stress system."