Circadian tau differences in biological, behavioural and sleepiness rhythms in delayed sleep-wake phase disorder and non-24-hour sleep-wake rhythm disorder patients

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In this study we investigated biological, sleepiness and behavioural rhythm period lengths (i.e., taus) of Delayed Sleep-Wake Phase Disorder (DSWPD), Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Rhythm Disorder (N24SWD) patients and healthy control sleepers. We also ran cross-correlation analyses between different rhythm variables to examine phase angle of entrainment. The aim was to explore if behavioural rhythms, in addition to the biological circadian rhythms contribute to misalignments of sleep timing symptomatic of DSWPD and N24SWD.

Twenty-six DSWPD participants who met diagnostic criteria (17m, 9f, age: 21.85 ± 4.97 years) and 18 controls (10m, 8f, age: 23.72 ± 5.10 years) participated in an 80-hour modified constant routine. Additionally, 4 full-sighted patients (3m, 1f, age: 25.75 ± 4.99 years) were diagnosed with N24SWD and included as a discrete study group. A forced-desynchrony ultradian protocol of 1-hour ‘days’ in dim light, controlled conditions alternated 20-minute sleep opportunities with 40-minute enforced wakefulness. Subjective sleepiness ratings were recorded prior to every sleep opportunity and median reaction time (vigilance) was measured hourly. Amount of sleep obtained (sleep propensity) was derived from 20-minute sleep opportunities to quantify hourly objective sleepiness. Hourly core body temperature was recorded and salivary melatonin assayed to measure endogenous circadian rhythms. Rhythm data were curved using the 2-component cosine model.

DSWPD and N24SWD patients had significantly longer melatonin and temperature taus compared to controls. There were no significant tau differences between groups as measured by subjective sleepiness, sleep propensity and vigilance rhythms. However, DSWPD patients showed a greater interval between maximum sleep propensity and minimum core body temperature. Their sleep propensity rhythms lagged core temperature rhythms by an hour more compared to controls’ sleep propensity and core temperature rhythms.

The findings provide further evidence that delayed circadian rhythms in DSWPD may result from larger phase angles between core body temperature and sleep propensity. This interval may result in later sleep timing in DSWPD patients relative to their circadian timing thus masking their light exposure during a time that is critical to phase-advancing the circadian system.

Support (If Any):
This project was funded by the Australian Research Council.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)A259-A260
Number of pages2
Issue numbersuppl_1
Publication statusPublished - 28 Apr 2017


  • circadiani rhythms
  • melatonin
  • perceptual masking
  • reaction time
  • wakefulness
  • behavior
  • body temperature
  • diagnosis
  • sleep
  • temperature
  • drowsiness
  • core body temperature
  • light exposure
  • mapt gene
  • rhythm


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