Strategic Goal: Goal 2: Reduce Human Disease

Elucidate the different causes of circadian disorders, and tailor the treatment to the cause

There are several possible physiological causes of Circadian Rhythm Sleep-Wake Disorders (CRSWDs), including lack of sensitivity to light, over-sensitivity to light, deficiencies in the ipRGC cells of the retina, lack of melatonin production, long elimination time of melatonin, long intrinsic circadian period, differences in timing of sleep relative to internal circadian rhythms, differences in tolerance to phase mismatch, etc. The specific cause likely depends on the individual patient. One would expect that some treatments work for certain causes, other treatments for others. Today a diagnosis is made solely on the symptoms, the natural sleep hours, and not the underlying cause. As a result, treatment is often ineffective.

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Is this idea a Compelling Question (CQ) or Critical Challenge (CC)? : Compelling Question (CQ)

Details on the impact of addressing this CQ or CC :

By analogy, a patient may complain of abdominal pain. This could be due to infection, food poisoning, ulcers, gall bladder, cancer, etc. Imagine if we treated all these patients by removing their gall bladder. There would be some successes, and many failures. Surveys of the literature would be unable to conclude that there's a well established successful treatment. That's the state of treatment of CRSWDs today.


CRSWDs such as Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder and Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Disorder cause suffering and inability to work normal hours, and often result in otherwise productive individuals being unable to find jobs and having to seek disability support. Those who force themselves into a conventional schedule often end up with chronic health problems, resulting in further cost to themselves and to society.

Feasibility and challenges of addressing this CQ or CC :

A major challenge is to diagnose not only a CRSWD but also its underlying cause. Improved biomarkers are essential to this effort, and are the subject of other Questions/Challenges. So too are a better understanding of the effects of light and melatonin on patients with these disorders, with the differing underlying impairments studied separately. With improvements in genetic testing and analysis, and improved sensor technology and automated data analysis, we are at the threshold of being able to study these underlying causes of CRSWDs.

Name of idea submitter and other team members who worked on this idea : Peter Mansbach


47 net votes
58 up votes
11 down votes
Idea No. 779