Gwyneth Hutchinson Humanities and Social Science
Circadian Disruption of Labor
Circadian rhythms are daily rhythms generated by all mammalian tissues that are critical to numerous physiological functions. These rhythms have far-reaching influence on the brain and periphery; therefore, circadian regulation of hormones is essential for normal functioning, and disruptions to circadian timing (e.g. irregular sleep patterns, nighttime light exposure, etc.) have detrimental health consequences. Labor and birth are reproductive events that exhibit a circadian rhythm by which human labor and birth tend to cluster during nighttime. Melatonin is a hormone secreted at night that is inhibited by light. We theorize that melatonin is involved in the labor process and that light exposure can impair labor progress. However, rhythm disruptions impact on labor progression and birth has never been studied. To answer this question, I will characterize the relationship between circadian disruption and labor intensity, duration, and the intervals between the birth of each pup. We will subject pregnant rats to bright light continuously in the days leading up to parturition (birth) and assess the impacts on the labor process. If circadian disruption indeed impairs labor as we suspect, it is then worthwhile to investigate neuroendocrine circuits implicated at the intersection of parturition and circadian timing.