Sex differences in phase angle of entrainment and melatonin amplitude in humans

J Biol Rhythms. 2010 Aug;25(4):288-96. doi: 10.1177/0748730410374943.


Studies of sex differences in the timing of human circadian rhythms have reported conflicting results. This may be because the studies conducted to date have not controlled for the masking effects of the rest activity cycle on the circadian rhythms being assessed. In the present analysis of data collected under controlled conditions, we examined sex differences in the timing of circadian rhythms while minimizing masking from behavioral and environmental factors using a constant routine (CR) protocol. All participants (28 women and 28 men paired by habitual wake time; age range, 18 30 years) maintained a regular self selected sleep wake schedule at home prior to the study. After 3 baseline days in the laboratory, participants began a CR. Women were found to have a significantly higher melatonin amplitude and lower temperature amplitude than men. While sleep timing was the same between the 2 groups, the timing of the circadian rhythms of core body temperature and pineal melatonin secretion was earlier relative to sleep time in women as compared to men. Sleep therefore occurred at a later biological time for women than men, despite being at the same clock time. Given that sleep propensity and structure vary with circadian phase and are impacted by circulating melatonin, these findings may have important implications for understanding sex differences in sleep timing and duration, diurnal preference, and the prevalence of sleep disorders such as insomnia.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Melatonin / metabolism
  • Photoperiod
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sleep / physiology*


  • Melatonin