Background: We propose a method for estimating the timing of in-bed intervals using objective data in a large representative US sample, and quantify the association between these intervals and age, sex, and day of the week.
Methods: The study included 11,951 participants 6 years and older from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 2003-2006, who wore accelerometers to measure physical activity for seven consecutive days. Participants were instructed to remove the device just before the nighttime sleep period and put it back on immediately after. This nighttime period of non-wear was defined in this paper as the objective bedtime (OBT), an objectively estimated record of the in-bed interval. For each night of the week, we estimated two measures: the duration of the OBT (OBT-D) and, as a measure of the chronotype, the midpoint of the OBT (OBT-M). We estimated day-of-the-week-specific OBT-D and OBT-M using gender-specific population percentile curves. Differences in OBT-M (chronotype) and OBT-D (the amount of time spent in bed) by age and sex were estimated using regression models.
Results: The estimates of OBT-M and their differences among age groups were consistent with the estimates of chronotype obtained via self-report in European populations. The average OBT-M varied significantly by age, while OBT-D was less variable with age. In the reference group (females, aged 17-22 years), the average OBT-M across 7 days was 4:19 AM (SD = 30 min) and the average OBT-D was 9 h 19 min (SD = 12 min). In the same age group the average OBT-D was 18 minutes shorter for males than for females, while the average OBT-M was not significantly different between males and females. The most pronounced differences were observed between OBT-M of weekday and weekend nights. In the reference group, compared to the average OBT-M of 3:50 am on Monday through Thursday nights, there was a 57-minute delay in OBT-M on Friday nights (entering the weekend), a 69-minute delay on Saturday nights (staying in the weekend), and a 23-minute delay on Sunday night (leaving the weekend). For both OBT-M and OBT-D, in most age groups and for most days of the week, there were no statistically significant differences between males and females, except for OBT-D on Wednesdays and Thursdays, with males having 31 (p-value < 0.05) and 45 (p-value < 0.05) minutes shorter OBT-D, respectively.
Conclusions: The proposed measures, OBT-D and OBT-M, provide useful information of time in bed and chronotype in NHANES 2003-2006. They identify within-week patterns of bedtime and can be used to study associations between the bedtime and the large number of health outcomes collected in NHANES 2003-2006.
Keywords: Bedtime; chronotype; day of the week; life-span.