Impact of age, sleep pressure and circadian phase on time-of-day estimates

Behav Brain Res. 2009 Jul 19;201(1):48-52. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2009.01.029. Epub 2009 Feb 4.


Orientation and self-location within the temporal fabric of the environment involves multiple organismic systems. While temporal self-location on the physiological level has been known for some time to be based on a 'biological clock' located within the hypothalamus, the mechanisms that participate in temporal position finding on the cognitive level are not yet fully understood. In order to probe the mechanisms that underlie this faculty, verbal estimates on time-of-day were collected at 3.75-h intervals from 16 young (7 males, 8 females; 20-31 years) and 16 older (8 males, 8 females; 57-74 years) subjects in a balanced crossover design during 40-h epochs of prolonged wakefulness and 40-h epochs of sleep satiation spent under constant routine conditions. An overestimation of clock time during prolonged wakefulness was found in both age-groups, with significantly larger errors for the older group (young: 0.5+/-0.2h; older: 1.5+/-0.2h, p<0.05). In both age-groups, estimation errors ran roughly parallel to the time course of core body temperature. However a significant interaction between time-of-day and age-group was observed (rANOVA, p<0.05): younger subjects exhibited similar estimation errors as the older subjects after 16 h of prior wakefulness, whereas the latter did not manifest decrements under high sleep pressure. Data collected under conditions of sleep satiation also displayed a diurnal oscillation in estimation errors and a general overestimation (young: 0.8+/-0.2h; older: 1.3+/-0.3h, p<0.05). Here however, the age-groups did not differ significantly nor was there an interactive effect between time-of-day and age-group. The effects of age, duration of wake time and circadian phase on temporal position finding are in line with predictions based on the idea that awareness about current position in time is derived from interval timing processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Body Temperature
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sleep Deprivation / psychology
  • Sleep*
  • Time Perception*
  • Young Adult