Individual differences in adult human sleep and wakefulness: Leitmotif for a research agenda

Sleep. 2005 Apr;28(4):479-96. doi: 10.1093/sleep/28.4.479.


This paper reviews the literature on interindividual variability in human sleep parameters, sleepiness, responses to sleep deprivation, and manifestations of sleep disorders. Variability among individuals in sleep/wake biology and behavior is pervasive. The magnitude of such individual differences is often considerable and comparable to the effect sizes of many experimental and clinical interventions. Evidence is accumulating that certain aspects of sleep/wake-related variability--such as sleep duration, daytime sleepiness, and vulnerability to the effects of sleep loss--involve trait characteristics in healthy populations and among sleep-disordered patients. Establishing the trait-specific nature of variability in sleep/wake parameters is a prerequisite for elucidating the corresponding neurophysiologic and/or genetic mechanisms. At present, it remains largely unknown what underlies or predicts sleep/wake-related traits, what relationships these traits may have to each other, and what functional significance may be associated with specific traits. Scientific studies addressing these issues are warranted, as understanding the basis of trait variability may yield new insights into sleep/wake regulation and sleep pathology. Understanding individual differences in sleep and wakefulness may also have provocative but important implications for health economics and clinical care, as well as for safety, productivity, and general well-being. This paper gives suggestions for a research agenda focusing on individual differences in sleep research and sleep medicine.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Disorders of Excessive Somnolence
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Narcolepsy / diagnosis
  • Narcolepsy / physiopathology
  • Polysomnography
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / physiopathology
  • Sleep Deprivation / diagnosis
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / diagnosis
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / physiopathology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Wakefulness / physiology*