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Circadian and Ultradian Rhythmicities in Very Premature Neonates Maintained in Incubators

AuthorsSchimmel, Martin CSIC ORCID ; Waterhouse, J.; Marques, M.D.; Weinert, D.
KeywordsTime-frequency analysis, light-dark cycle, eating-feeding cycle, circadian rhythms, ultradian rhythms, pre-term infants.
Light-dark cycle
Eating-feeding cycle
Circadian rhythms
Pre-term infants.
Ultradian rhythms
Issue DateFeb-2002
PublisherTaylor & Francis
CitationBiological Rhythm Research 33(2): 81-112(2002)
AbstractSix very premature babies (born at 26-28 weeks gestational age) have been studied in hospital for 11-17 weeks, while in intensive care and in an incubator. Apart from suffering occasionally from the neonatal disorders of haemolytic jaundice and 'respiratory distress of the newborn', the babies were healthy and developed normally. Initially, the babies were continuously fed intravenously, and the lighting in the ward was on continuously. Routine care was given round the clock. When their medical condition permitted it, the babies were moved in their incubator to an adjacent ward, where they took frequent (2-4 hourly) small meals by mouth, the lighting was dimmed at night, and routine care tended to be given more in the daytime. Hourly recordings of insulated skin temperature were taken throughout the study, and it is the detection of rhythmicity in these measurements that has been the subject of the present study. The methods used were Phase-weighted Stacks, Phasor Walkout and Power Spectral Analysis. These methods have previously been used mainly in geophysical studies, and their value is that they can detect weak signals in noisy data and do not assume a particular waveform of any signal. Circadian rhythmicity was found in all babies for much of the time that were in the constant environment provided by the incubator. Ultradian rhythms were sometimes present also, but they were shorter-lived, and showed a wide range of changing periods, generally in excess of 8 h. When the babies were being treated for jaundice or respiratory distress, there was a tendency for the circadian rhythms to become weaker and for a broader spectrum of ultradian periods to appear. Placing babies in the 12 h : 12 h light : dark environment provided by the ward, and instituting feeding by mouth, had, in most cases, only modest effects upon either circadian or ultradian rhythms. Thus, circadian rhythms continued (but generally with a period not exactly equal to 24 h), and ultradian rhythms, when present, often did not show periods that could be related easily to feeding or care-giving. These results are discussed in terms of evidence for endogenous and exogenous origins of the observed rhythms, and of theories that have postulated the relationship between circadian and ultradian rhythms. It is concluded that the results from the present analyses are difficult to reconcile with the view that circadian rhythms develop from interactions between ultradian oscillators. We suggest that they indicate a matu-ration of the circadian system as a consequence of increasing associations between the circadian elements that are present in the suprachiasmatic nuclei and in other oscillators of the circadian system. The new analytical methods used here also indicate that the results obtained from time-frequency analysis depend to some extent upon the method used.
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