Ultradian and circadian activity-rest rhythms of preterm neonates compared to full-term neonates using actigraphic monitoring

Chronobiol Int. 2001 Jul;18(4):697-708. doi: 10.1081/cbi-100106082.


During the first weeks of life, preterm neonates show fewer circadian rhythms in their physiological parameters than full-term neonates. To determine whether preterm neonates differ in their temporal adaptation to the day-night cycle from full-term neonates at the early age of 1 week, we compared activity-rest behavior of both groups. Activity-rest behavior of 10 neurologically healthy preterm neonates (born in 34th to 36th week of gestation) and 10 neurologically healthy full-term neonates (born in 37th to 42nd week of gestation) was monitored longitudinally for 8 successive days in the first 2 weeks of life. Actigraphy was used to register and display time patterns of activity and rest in neonates by using small actometers, which resemble a wristwatch. Nursing/feeding was recorded using the actometer's integrated event marker button. Recordings for preterm neonates were conducted in the hospital, recordings for full-term neonates were carried out in the hospital and in their homes. In addition to the actigraphic recordings, a standardized diary was kept regularly. To assess periodic characteristics, frequency components of activity-rest behavior were analyzed using fast Fourier transformation (FFT). Amounts of daily sleep time, nightly sleep time, and sleep time during 24h were compared. Nursing/feeding epochs were also analyzed for 5 preterm and 5 full-term neonates to compare their food intake behavior. The majority of preterm neonates showed a multitude of ultradian frequencies in their spectra. In contrast, several full-term neonates showed a distinct circadian frequency. In preterm neonates, average nightly sleep and average daily sleep of all recorded days were very similar, but after the fourth day of life, only average nightly sleep increased. In full-term neonates, average nightly and daily sleep time of all recorded days differed by about 1h. Average sleep time during 24h for preterm and full-term neonates was similar. Preterm neonates showed longer intervals between events of food intake than full-term neonates. The circadian peaks in the frequency spectra of full-term neonates may indicate the initial adaptation in the first week of life to a 24h day. This is in agreement with our results concerning the different durations of nightly and daily sleep. The increase in nightly sleep time of preterm neonates may be attributed to the progressing adaptation to a circadian activity-rest pattern.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Activity Cycles / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Sleep / physiology