Background: Several studies of healthy volunteers have revealed that subjective mood may vary with the duration of prior wakefulness and with the time of day. However, in these studies, the effects of extended wakefulness and circadian phase remained confounded, and the interaction of these 2 processes could not be assessed quantitatively.
Methods: In the present study, a total of 24 healthy young subjects (16 men, 8 women) lived on a 30-hour sleep-wake schedule for 19 to 23 days or on a 28-hour sleep-wake schedule for 33 to 36 days; both schedules induced desynchrony between the subjects' sleep-wake cycle and their endogenous circadian pacemaker. Subjective mood was assessed by 2 types of visual analog scales, which were administered twice every 2 hours and every 20 minutes, respectively, during all scheduled wakefulness episodes. A circadian phase and an interval elapsed since awakening were attributed to each data point, and circadian and wake-dependent fluctuations of mood were assessed.
Results: A significant variation of mood with circadian phase was observed, but no reliable main effect of the duration of prior wakefulness was found. A statistically significant interaction of circadian and wake-dependent fluctuations was evident; when the analysis was restricted to specific circadian phases, mood improved, deteriorated, or remained stable with the duration of prior wakefulness.
Conclusions: These results indicate that, in healthy young subjects, subjective mood is influenced by a complex and nonadditive interaction of circadian phase and duration of prior wakefulness. The nature of this interaction is such that moderate changes in the timing of the sleep-wake cycle may have profound effects on subsequent mood.