Zeitgeber- literally ‘time giver’.
Our daily rhythms and routines are governed and influenced by a number of factors. Internal factors set by hormonal levels and circadian rhythms such as sleep/wake cycles may operate at a cellular level and remain roughly consistent but not exactly in synch with a 24 hour clock. Zeitgebers exert influences on our internal ‘body clocks’.
Examples of physical zeitgebers are noise or daylight, social zeitgebers could be meal times or bed time rituals. Zeitgebers are very important to maintain synchronicity between an individual and their environment e.g. helping to conform to the 24 hour cycle that governs most people’s lives as work and other activities are arranged to start and finish at set times daily.
We can experience the disruption of this relationship when we travel across time zones and have ‘jet-lag’. Any disruption in zeitgebers, such as a traumatic life event, can lead to a period of instability as usual routines are disrupted, literally enough to disrupt internal rhythms as the expected prompts no longer occur- perhaps this is why family holidays are said to be one of the most stressful occasions!
Zeitgebers can be used to help ‘train’ into a desired pattern of daily life or to reinforce and maintain stability. In order to perform at our best we need to be in balance with our internal rhythms. Occupational therapists may find that considering the implications of this can be helpful when working with individuals, especially those who are in a disrupted situation, such as an acute admission to hospital.