Six healthy young men and eight early middle-aged men were isolated from environmental time cues for 15 days. For the first 6-7 days (one or two nights adaptation, four nights baseline), their sleep and meals were scheduled to approximate their habitual patterns. Their daily routines were then shifted 6 hours earlier by terminating the sixth or seventh sleep episode 6 hours early. The new schedules were followed for the next 8 or 9 days. Important age-related differences in adjustment to this single 6-hour schedule shift were found. For the first 4-day interval after the shift, middle-aged subjects had larger increases of waking time during the sleep period and earlier termination of sleep than young subjects. They also reported larger decreases in alertness and well-being and larger increases in sleepiness, weariness and effort required to perform daily functions. The rate of adjustment of the circadian core temperature rhythm to the new schedule did not differ between groups. These results suggest that the symptoms reported by the middle-aged subjects may be due mainly to difficulty maintaining sleep at early times of the circadian day. The compensatory response to sleep deprivation may also be less robust in middle-aged individuals traveling eastbound.