Summer 2024 - PSYC 388 D100

Biological Rhythms and Sleep (3)

Class Number: 3433

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    May 6 – Aug 2, 2024: Tue, 2:30–5:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Aug 16, 2024
    Fri, 12:00–3:00 p.m.

  • Instructor:

    Ralph Mistlberger
    Office: RCB 7316
    Office Hours: By appointment
  • Prerequisites:

    PSYC 201 and 280.



Behaviour and physiology are regulated by biological clocks, which function to synchronize the organism optimally with its environment. In this course we examine the adaptive role of clocks in animal behaviour, the neural and endocrine mechanisms of daily, monthly and yearly rhythms, and the relevance of clocks, rhythms and sleep to human performance and psychopathology. We will also consider the mechanisms and functions of sleep states.


Lecture Topics and Schedule
Week1. May 7 - What are biological rhythms and why should we care?
Week2. May 14 - Why are circadian clocks present in (nearly) all life forms?
Week3. May 21 - How clocks and rhythms synchronize to the environment: A critical role for light.
Week4. May 28 - 'Non-photic' environmental time cues are also important Quiz1
Week5. June 4 - Humans are circadian too.
Week6. June 11 - MIDTERM EXAM – Modules 3-7.2
Week7. June 18 – The discovery of circadian clocks in the brain and body: systems neuroscience
Week8. June 25 – The discovery of circadian clock genes: molecular neuroscience
Week9. July 2 – Circadian clock inputs and outputs
Week10. July 9 – Circadian clocks and sleep in humans
Week11. July 16 – Circadian clocks, cognition and performance Quiz2
Week12. July 23 – Circadian clocks and working life
Week13. July 30 - Hourly and yearly rhythms and mood disorders in humans


The behavior, physiology and biochemistry of animals, including humans, exhibit rhythmicity in the hourly, daily, monthly and yearly domains. In this course, we will discuss the adaptive significance and biological mechanisms of rhythmicity, with special emphasis on so-called ‘circadian’ (daily) rhythms generated by 24h biological clocks in the brain and body.
Core questions to be addressed include:
1. What is the evidence that biological clocks regulate human and animal behaviour, how did such clocks evolve, and what are they good for?
2. How do we localize and study biological clocks?
3. How do biological clocks keep time?
4. How are biological clocks synchronized to the environment? What is the nature of the species and individual differences that we recognize as chronotypes (e.g., nocturnal vs diurnal, and ‘early-birds’ vs ‘night-owls’)?
5. Can biological clocks be ‘controlled’, e.g., by environmental, behavioral or pharmacological stimuli? Can we turn night-owls into early birds, or make nightshift workers nocturnal?
6. How do biological clocks regulate sleep-wake states and other brain functions?
7. How do rhythms and sleep affect our ability to pay attention, learn and remember?
8. What role do biological clocks and sleep play in mental and physical health and disease?
The study of rhythms and sleep is conducted at many different levels, from the molecular biology of ‘clock’ neurons in the brain to the role of biological clocks and sleep in human health and performance. The study of biological timekeeping thus provides a superb vantage point from which to examine how normal and abnormal behaviour can be understood from genes to environment.


  • Two short quizzes: 16%
  • Term Paper/Project: 20%
  • Mid-Term Exam: 32%
  • Final Exam: 32%



A PDF of the lecture notes for each module will be posted on Canvas. Any additional readings will be posted on Canvas as PDFs.
Lecture overheads and the lecture video will be posted on Canvas after class.


There is no required textbook.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at:

Registrar Notes:


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