Evening chronotype, alcohol use disorder severity, and emotion regulation in college students

Chronobiol Int. 2020 Dec;37(12):1725-1735. doi: 10.1080/07420528.2020.1800028. Epub 2020 Aug 13.


The evening chronotype is strongly associated with greater alcohol use, though mechanisms underlying this association are not well understood. The current study evaluated emotion regulation as a potential mechanism linking evening chronotype and alcohol use. Participants were 81 undergraduate students. Chronotype was assessed using the Composite Scale of Morningness (CSM). Alcohol use disorder severity was assessed using the Alcohol Use Disorder Identification Test (AUDIT). Participants recorded daily sleep patterns using an online diary for seven days. Participants then completed a standardized laboratory emotion regulation task. Self-reported affect, high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV), and pre-ejection period (PEP) were measured throughout the task. Sleep duration on non-free days (defined as days when sleep was restricted by morning obligations such as work or school) was evaluated as a moderator. Thirty-one evening chronotypes (CSM scores ≤ 26) were compared to 50 non-evening chronotypes (CSM scores >26). Evening chronotypes reported significantly greater symptoms of alcohol use disorder (F = 4.399, p = .039). In the full sample, emotion regulation was successful for altering affective but not autonomic reactivity to emotional stimuli. There were no chronotype differences in self-reported affect, HF-HRV, or PEP during the emotion regulation task. Longer sleep duration on non-free days was associated with increased HF-HRV during negative emotion regulation among non-evening chronotypes. Moderated mediation revealed that emotion regulation did not mediate the association between evening chronotype and alcohol use, irrespective of sleep duration on non-free days. This study is consistent with the literature on chronotype and substance use, demonstrating that undergraduate evening chronotypes endorse greater severity of alcohol use disorder. Given that emotion regulation did not successfully alter autonomic reactivity to emotional stimuli, emotion regulation as a potential mechanism linking chronotype and alcohol use remains inconclusive. Longer sleep duration appears to be protective for non-evening chronotypes in terms of parasympathetic control during the regulation of negative emotions.

Keywords: Chronotype; HRV; alcohol; autonomic; emotion regulation.

MeSH terms

  • Alcoholism*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Emotional Regulation*
  • Humans
  • Sleep
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires