"Early to bed, early to rise": diffusion tensor imaging identifies chronotype-specificity

Neuroimage. 2014 Jan 1:84:428-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.07.086. Epub 2013 Aug 31.


Sleep and wakefulness are crucial prerequisites for cognitive efficiency, the disturbances of which severely impact performance and mood as present e.g. after time zone traveling, in shift workers or patients with sleep or affective disorders. Based on their individual disposition to sleep and wakefulness, humans can be categorized as early (EC), late (LC) or intermediate (IC) chronotypes. While ECs tend to wake up early in the morning and find it difficult to remain awake beyond their usual bedtime, LCs go to bed late and have difficulties getting up. Beyond sleep/wake timings, chronotypes show distinct patterns of cognitive performance, gene expression, endocrinology and lifestyle. However, little is known about brain structural characteristics potentially underlying differences. Specifically, white matter (WM) integrity is crucial for intact brain function and has been related to various lifestyle habits, suggesting differences between chronotypes. Hence, the present study draws on Diffusion Tensor Imaging as a powerful tool to non-invasively probe WM architecture in 16 ECs, 23 LCs and 20 ICs. Track-based spatial statistics highlight that LCs were characterized by WM differences in the frontal and temporal lobes, cingulate gyrus and corpus callosum. Results are discussed in terms of findings reporting late chronotypes to exhibit a chronic form of jet lag accompanied with sleep disturbances, vulnerability to depression and higher consumption of nicotine and alcohol. This study has far-reaching implications for health and the economy. Ideally, work schedules should fit in with chronotype-specificity whenever possible.

Keywords: Brain microstructure; Chronotype; Diffusion tensor imaging; White matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / ultrastructure*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Wakefulness / physiology*
  • Young Adult