Circadian temperature and melatonin rhythms, sleep, and neurobehavioral function in humans living on a 20-h day

Am J Physiol. 1999 Oct;277(4 Pt 2):R1152-63. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.1999.277.4.r1152.


The interaction of homeostatic and circadian processes in the regulation of waking neurobehavioral functions and sleep was studied in six healthy young subjects. Subjects were scheduled to 15-24 repetitions of a 20-h rest/activity cycle, resulting in desynchrony between the sleep-wake cycle and the circadian rhythms of body temperature and melatonin. The circadian components of cognitive throughput, short-term memory, alertness, psychomotor vigilance, and sleep disruption were at peak levels near the temperature maximum, shortly before melatonin secretion onset. These measures exhibited their circadian nadir at or shortly after the temperature minimum, which in turn was shortly after the melatonin maximum. Neurobehavioral measures showed impairment toward the end of the 13-h 20-min scheduled wake episodes. This wake-dependent deterioration of neurobehavioral functions can be offset by the circadian drive for wakefulness, which peaks in the latter half of the habitual waking day during entrainment. The data demonstrate the exquisite sensitivity of many neurobehavioral functions to circadian phase and the accumulation of homeostatic drive for sleep.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena*
  • Photoperiod*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Wakefulness / physiology


  • Melatonin