Many physiological and cellular processes cycle with time, with the period between one peak and the next being roughly equal to 24 h. These circadian rhythms underlie ‘permissive homeostasis’, whereby anticipation of periods of increased energy demand or stress may enhance the function of individual cells, organ systems or whole organisms. Many physiological variables related to survival during critical illness have a circadian rhythm, including the sleep/wake cycle, haemodynamic and respiratory indices, immunity and coagulation, but their clinical significance remains underappreciated. Critically ill patients suffer from circadian dysrhythmia, manifesting overtly as sleep disturbance and delirium, but with widespread covert effects on cellular and organ function. Environmental and pharmacological strategies that ameliorate or prevent circadian dysrhythmia have demonstrated clinical benefit. Harnessing these important biological phenomena to match metabolic supply to demand and bolster cell defenses at the apposite time may be a future therapeutic strategy in the intensive care unit.

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Journal of the Intensive Care Society
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

McKenna, H.T. (Helen T), Reiss, I.K.M, & Martin, D.S. (2017). The significance of circadian rhythms and dysrhythmias in critical illness. Journal of the Intensive Care Society (Vol. 18, pp. 121–129). doi:10.1177/1751143717692603