Effects of aging on the intrinsic circadian period of totally blind humans

J Biol Rhythms. 2001 Feb;16(1):87-95. doi: 10.1177/074873040101600110.


Age-related changes in the intrinsic circadian period (tau) have been hypothesized to account for sleep symptoms in the elderly such as early morning awakening. The authors sought to determine whether the aging process produced quantifiable differences in the tau of totally blind men who had free-running circadian rhythms. The melatonin onset was used as the indicator of circadian phase. Melatonin rhythms had been characterized about a decade previously when the participants were 38 +/- 6 (SD) years old. Both previous and current assessments of tau were derived from at least 3 serial measurements of the 24-h melatonin profile from which the melatonin onset was determined. All 6 participants exhibited a longer tau in the 2nd assessment (mean increase +/- SD of 0.13 +/- 0.08 h; p < 0.01). Four participants exhibited differences in tau with nonoverlapping 95% confidence intervals. The results do not support the commonly held view that tau shortens during human aging. On the contrary, tau appears to slightly, but significantly, lengthen during at least 1 decade in midlife.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Blindness / physiopathology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Regression Analysis
  • Sleep / physiology


  • Melatonin