Summer 2021 - PSYC 388 D100

Biological Rhythms and Sleep (3)

Class Number: 3842

Delivery Method: Remote


  • Course Times + Location:

    Tu 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM

  • Prerequisites:

    PSYC 201 and 280.



Behavior 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 behavior, 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.


Most of this course will be taught asynchronous, except for the 2 quizzes, midterm and final exams.
The instructor plans to introduce himself and the course in a synchronous first lecture; and the remaining lectures will be available by video.

The behaviour, 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. 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.

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?


Introduction and course overview.
Evolution and adaptive functions of biological rhythms and clocks
Environmental influences. light: entrainment and masking.
Environmental influences. Entrainment by ‘non-photic’ stimuli
Entrainment in humans: photic, nonphotic, and individual differences
Systems neuroscience: conceptual models and localization of clocks in brain and body
Molecular neuroscience: Circadian clock genes – story of the 2017 Nobel Prize
Clock inputs and outputs
Circadian organization of sleep and wake in humans
Circadian clocks, sleep and cognition: attention, learning and memory
Circadian clocks and working life: behavioral & health effects of shiftwork
Hourly and annual rhythms; chronobiology and psychopathology


  • Mid-Term Exam: 30%
  • Writing Assignments: 20%
  • Final Exam: 30%
  • Quiz 1: 10%
  • Quiz 2: 10%

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity web site is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating.  Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the University community.  Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the University. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the University.


Teaching at SFU in summer 2021 will be conducted primarily through remote methods, but we will continue to have in-person experiential activities for a selection of courses.  Such course components will be clearly identified at registration, as will course components that will be “live” (synchronous) vs. at your own pace (asynchronous). Enrollment acknowledges that remote study may entail different modes of learning, interaction with your instructor, and ways of getting feedback on your work than may be the case for in-person classes. To ensure you can access all course materials, we recommend you have access to a computer with a microphone and camera, and the internet. In some cases your instructor may use Zoom or other means requiring a camera and microphone to invigilate exams. If proctoring software will be used, this will be confirmed in the first week of class.

Students with hidden or visible disabilities who believe they may need class or exam accommodations, including in the current context of remote learning, are encouraged to register with the SFU Centre for Accessible Learning ( or 778-782-3112).