Free-running Circadian Period in Adolescents and Adults

J Sleep Res. 2018 Oct;27(5):e12678. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12678. Epub 2018 Mar 8.


Sleep timing shifts later during adolescence (second decade). This trend reverses at ~20 years and continues to shift earlier into adulthood. The current analysis examined the hypothesis that a longer free-running circadian period during late adolescence (14-17 years) compared with adulthood (30-45 years) accounts for sleep timing differences. Sex and ancestry were also examined because previous reports find that women and those with African-American ancestry have shorter free-running periods. Circadian period was measured using an ultradian dark-light protocol (2 hr dark/sleep, 2 hr dim room light [~20 lux]/wake) over 3.4 days. Dim light melatonin onsets were measured before and after the ultradian protocol, from which the circadian period was derived. In contrast to our hypothesis, we found that free-running circadian period was similar in adolescents and adults. African-American adults had shorter free-running circadian periods compared with adults of other ancestries. This ancestry difference was not seen in the adolescent group. Finally, we observed a non-significant trend for shorter free-running circadian periods in females compared with males. These data suggest that age-related changes in circadian period after late adolescence do not account for sleep timing differences. These data provide further support for ancestry-related differences in period, particularly in adults. Whether the large difference in circadian period between African-American and other ancestries emerges later in development should be explored.

Keywords: delay; dim light melatonin onset; forced desynchrony; race; tau.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sleep / physiology*

Associated data

  • GENBANK/HL105395