Circadian rhythms are near 24-h patterns of physiology and behaviour that are present independent of external cues including hormones, body temperature, mood, and sleep propensity. The term 'circadian misalignment' describes a variety of circumstances, such as inappropriately timed sleep and wake, misalignment of sleep/wake with feeding rhythms, or misaligned central and peripheral rhythms. The predominance of early research focused on misalignment of sleep to the biological night. However, discovery of clock genes and the presence of peripheral circadian oscillators have expanded the definitions of misalignment. Experimental studies conducted in animal models and humans have provided evidence of potential mechanisms that link misalignment to negative outcomes. These include dysregulation of feeding behaviours, changes in appetite stimulating hormones, glucose metabolism and mood. This review has two foci: (1) to describe how circadian misalignment has been defined and evaluated in laboratory and field experiments, and (2) to describe evidence linking different types of circadian misalignment to increased risk for physical (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer) and psychiatric (depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, attention deficit) disorders. This review will describe the role of circadian misalignment as a risk factor for disease in the general population and in clinical populations, including circadian rhythm sleep disorders and psychiatric disorders.
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