Measuring sleep regularity: theoretical properties and practical usage of existing metrics

Sleep. 2021 Oct 11;44(10):zsab103. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsab103.


Study objectives: Sleep regularity predicts many health-related outcomes. Currently, however, there is no systematic approach to measuring sleep regularity. Traditionally, metrics have assessed deviations in sleep patterns from an individual's average; these traditional metrics include intra-individual standard deviation (StDev), interdaily stability (IS), and social jet lag (SJL). Two metrics were recently proposed that instead measure variability between consecutive days: composite phase deviation (CPD) and sleep regularity index (SRI). Using large-scale simulations, we investigated the theoretical properties of these five metrics.

Methods: Multiple sleep-wake patterns were systematically simulated, including variability in daily sleep timing and/or duration. Average estimates and 95% confidence intervals were calculated for six scenarios that affect the measurement of sleep regularity: "scrambling" the order of days; daily vs. weekly variation; naps; awakenings; "all-nighters"; and length of study.

Results: SJL measured weekly but not daily changes. Scrambling did not affect StDev or IS, but did affect CPD and SRI; these metrics, therefore, measure sleep regularity on multi-day and day-to-day timescales, respectively. StDev and CPD did not capture sleep fragmentation. IS and SRI behaved similarly in response to naps and awakenings but differed markedly for all-nighters. StDev and IS required over a week of sleep-wake data for unbiased estimates, whereas CPD and SRI required larger sample sizes to detect group differences.

Conclusions: Deciding which sleep regularity metric is most appropriate for a given study depends on a combination of the type of data gathered, the study length and sample size, and which aspects of sleep regularity are most pertinent to the research question.

Keywords: circadian disruption; circadian misalignment; inter-individual variability; intra-individual variability; sleep stability; sleep variability.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Benchmarking
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Jet Lag Syndrome
  • Sleep
  • Sleep Wake Disorders*