Body Clock: Unravelling Disruptions with Mathematics

In the quest to decode the repercussions of disturbances like daylight savings time adjustments, nocturnal work shifts, jet lag, and even late-night screen scrolling on the body’s circadian rhythms, researchers are delving into the intricate realm of mathematical models. These models offer insights into the profound impact of such disruptions on the body’s internal clock, paving the way for a deeper understanding of how to bolster the resilience of this master clock – the cluster of neurons orchestrating the body’s myriad internal rhythms.

Collaborative efforts between the University of Waterloo and the University of Oxford have yielded a groundbreaking model that illuminates the inner workings of the brain’s central timekeeper – the cluster of neurons steering the symphony of internal rhythms. Additionally, this research aims to propose strategies for fortifying weakened or impaired circadian rhythms in individuals.

The repercussions of sustained disruptions to circadian rhythms are far-reaching, with links established to conditions such as diabetes, cognitive decline, and a spectrum of disorders.


Stéphanie Abo, the study’s lead author and a PhD student specializing in applied mathematics, emphasized, “Our modern society is witnessing an escalating demand for work during unconventional daylight hours. This upheaval profoundly affects our light exposure, as well as fundamental habits like sleep and eating patterns.”

Circadian rhythms, akin to internal clocks, choreograph the approximately 24-hour cycles guiding various bodily functions, oscillating between periods of wakefulness and repose. Amidst this intricate dance, scientists are untangling the intricacies of the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (SCN) – the cluster of neurons constituting the brain’s master clock.

Leveraging the potency of mathematical modelling techniques and differential equations, the collective of applied mathematics researchers have sculpted a macroscopic portrayal of the SCN. This panoramic depiction encompasses an almost infinite number of neurons and centres on the study of the system’s couplings – the neural interconnections shaping a shared rhythm within the SCN.

A striking revelation emerged from their inquiry: consistent and enduring disruptions to circadian rhythms erode this shared rhythm, signifying a diminution in the transmission of signals between SCN neurons. Remarkably, their investigation uncovered an unexpected twist – minor disruptions can amplify the connections between neurons, enhancing their communication.


Stéphanie Abo remarked, “Mathematical models grant us the ability to precisely manipulate bodily systems in ways that would be intricate or ethically untenable within a living organism or a controlled environment. This empowers us to conduct research and formulate robust hypotheses with economical efficiency.”

In unveiling the intricate dance of the body’s internal clock, these mathematical models usher in a new era of exploration, offering unprecedented insights into the profound impact of disruptions and illuminating potential avenues for intervention.


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