The daily recurrence of activity and rest are so common as to seem trivial. However, they reflect a ubiquitous temporal programme called the circadian clock. In the absence of either anatomical clock structures or clock genes, the timing of sleep and wakefulness is disrupted. The complex nature of circadian behaviour is evident in the fact that phasing of the cycle during the day varies widely for individuals, resulting in extremes colloquially called 'larks' and 'owls'. These behavioural oscillations are mirrored in the levels of physiology and gene expression. Deciphering the underlying mechanisms will provide important insights into how the circadian clock affects health and disease.