TOP > About Child Science > Kodomogaku Kotohazime (1998-2000) > Children's Problem Behaviors and their Relationship to Biological Rhythms


Children's Problem Behaviors and their Relationship to Biological Rhythms

In the 1980's, in Japan and the United States, it became apparent that when the sleep cycle is not in synchronization with the daily life cycle, many behavioral problems emerge. In Japan, the most representative of these problems for children was the refusal to attend school and for adults, the refusal to go to work.

There seems to be two causes for the correlation. One possible explanation is that the children's sleep cycle is abnormal, and the other is that the circadian rhythm and daily rhythm altogether has been thrown off balance. If the sleep cycle itself is abnormal, it will be manifested by the fact that no matter how hard the individual tries, the normal sleeping hours are shifted a few hours later. If the circadian rhythm is off balance, there is a shift of one or two hours each day of the time an individual sleeps.

The latter can be suspected as being caused by studying for examinations, attending cram school or lessons of some sort and the lively nature of the activities planned in the evening hours. Such trends in the life cycle of youth may be the factors leading to the dysfunction in their circadian rhythm, which is far from what is normal for the child's place in development and school grade.

When we examine the sleep cycle of school refusal students, we can observe that their circadian rhythm is in a state of malfunction which ultimately affects their sleep cycle, and is manifested in symptoms such as acting out, headaches and stomach aches. Furthermore, there are so many irregularities in the biological rhythm at this point, that there are yet so many unknowns. However, in every living body, there is a biological pattern and functioning that is unique to that being. In addition, each has a gene that gives them the power or knowledge to adjust this biological functioning to their environment. This was first observed in the fly and later it was proved to be applicable to the mouse as well. Now there are many genes that are said to affect this cycle, biological rhythm.

Thus, there is a possibility that for humans, many genes may still be discovered which affects the biological rhythms such as heart rate, respiration, sleep and even the menstrual cycle. In this case, we will be able to medically diagnose and treat the above mentioned problems. How did humans come to have genes that regulate rhythm? It is simple to analyze if we think of humans in terms of having evolved from rhythm of life.

4.5 billion years ago, the earth appeared in the universe. The rhythm of life began from this point, as explained by the earth's circling of the sun giving us the seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter and also the times of the day such as morning, noon and evening by self rotation of the earth. This, in effect, is the source of the circadian rhythm. Through this cycle, the ocean and moon gave life to the rhythm of the tides.

In the midst of these rhythms of life, about 3.8 billion years ago, evolved the very first living organisms. These unicellular organisms were the beginning of the evolution of life, including multiple celled animals and plants, vertebrates, fish, insects and then dinosaurs which were finally able to live on land. Later the mammals we know of today evolved and about 500 years ago, the human species were first said to have appeared in Africa.

Human life has always been guided by the circadian rhythm and has evolved by adjusting to this rhythm. I strongly believe that in order for human life to adapt to the rhythm of the moon, sun, and earth, a gene developed along the way to further facilitate the smooth functioning of this cycle.

It is then, not strange at all, for something controlled by a gene, to suddenly become dysfunctional. Thus, the above mentioned sleep dysfunctions may also be a typical manifestation of these problems. It is possible that the children with these problems have somehow become the victims of their own biological cycle not being able to adjust to nature's cycle causing them to react in various ways, including acting out.

What is more problematic is that because we have this gene, it is difficult to adjust the rhythm of our current lifestyle since it is so different from the rhythm of the nature. In the primitive era, there were probably no problems as we can see today, since their daily lifestyle of hunting and gathering was somewhat dominated by nature's cycle.

In our lifestyle today, we not only have natural sunlight, but our circadian cycle may be confused by the addition of electric light or the existence of midnight radio broadcasts which are representatives of modern civilization. Thus, the rhythm of life that we had experienced for 4.5 billion years, may now be drifting farther away from nature's cycle due to our added lifestyle centered around the evening hours.

Social culture and family life have become richer in many ways, but our rhythm has been altered greatly as a result of this. It may be worthwhile to think of contemporary children's problem behaviors in this perspective and to afford them a chance to readjust their circadian cycles.
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