Discuss the consequences of disrupting biological rhythms (24 marks)

An essay on the consequences of disrupting biorhythms

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Chloe Blunden
Discuss the consequences of disrupting biological rhythms (24 marks)
The exogenous zeitgebers that affect biological rhythms usually change very slowly, for example
the amount of light we get in the summer changing to the amount of light in the winter.
Sometimes though, the zeitgebers change quickly, for example, jet lag or changing the clocks
One particular zeitgeber that influences circadian rhythms in shift work, which is working at hours
that run differently to normal hours, such as starting your shift at 7pm and finishing at 5am.
LoRusso has done a lot of research into shift work and found that there are a few symptoms that
come along with it, one of these is depression which can be caused because of the change in times
that they are awake and this means that there are a lack of activities they can do at night, they
cannot interact much with other humans and they especially cannot interact properly with their
friends and family as they are running their days at opposite times. Another symptom is fatigue
which was looked into by Coren who found that because the shift worker has to sleep during the
day, the amount of light means that melatonin production will be very low and therefore they
cannot get good sleep even though they're extremely tired. Kiecolt Glaser gives evidence for the
next symptom, which is a reduced immune system. She said that slow wave sleep was essential for
producing white-blood cells or killer T-cells and therefore when an illness comes along, such as
cancer, the shift workers body will find it much harder to fight off the illness. Another symptom is
reduced fertility, but most of the evidence is only for women's reduced fertility. A recent study
that gives support for zeitgebers influencing infradian rhythms looked at females that worked in
shifts and found that they had a 33% chance of disrupted periods, are 29% more likely to have a
miscarriage and those who always worked night shifts had an 80% more likely to struggle
conceiving. Insomnia is another symptom and this is caused by the lack of melatonin being
produced in the day so they have difficulty falling and staying asleep. Yet another symptom is poor
family life which is supported by Lynn White, a sociologist that found that shift work raised the
likelihood of divorce from 7% to 11%.
Finally, shift work can cause poor decision making skills as it can cause hallucinations,
schizophrenic symptoms etc. There are lots of case studies that support that shift work can cause
poor decision making and one of these is the Chernobyl nuclear explosion that happened at
1:23am, a point at which melatonin production is near its highest. The accident was caused by six
completely separate gross human errors and if one even of these errors had been corrected, the
explosion wouldn't have happened. One expert, Andronik Petrosyants, head of the State
Committee for Use of Atomic Energy and also working on the case claimed that the errors were a
sequence of mistakes that were unbelievable. The six separate errors included someone turning
off the automatic controls for the reactor's power level, both the main water-circulation pumps
and backup pumps were turned on at the same time, which forces the coolant to flow too quickly,
systems that controlled water level and steam pressure were manually turned off and the worst
mistake was that staff turned off the emergency safety cooling system. All of these mistakes were
made by human error and 31 lives could have been saved had it not happened. This gives great
support for shift work being a cause of poor judgement as the people to blame for this accident
were working into the early morning and were already halfway through their shift.
Another example of sleep deprivation causing fault is the Selby train crash where Gary Hart left his
home at 4:50am after talking to a woman all night on the phone that he had never met before but
had made contact on a dating website. He hadn't slept that night or the night before which caused
him to fall asleep at the wheel and roll down an embankment onto some rail tracks. He awoke and
called 999 but as he was making the police aware of his situation, a train passed and sheared off

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Chloe Blunden
the front of the land rover he was sat in. The train derailed but remained upright and continued
travelling 500metres until it collided head on with another train. Both trains were travelling at
about 117mph which caused the collision to kill ten people. Gary Hart was tried for 10 charges of
causing death by dangerous driving and he pleaded not guilty.
Another zeitgeber that can influence circadian rhythms is when the clocks go forward in March
and go back in October.…read more


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