Alterations of circadian rhythmicity and sleep in aging: endocrine consequences

Horm Res. 1998;49(3-4):147-52. doi: 10.1159/000023162.


All 24-hour endocrine rhythms partially reflect the interaction of circadian rhythmicity with sleep-wake homeostasis but their relative contributions vary from one system to another. In older adults, many 24-hour rhythms are dampened and/or advanced, including those of cortisol and GH. Amplitude reduction and phase advance of 24-hour rhythms may represent age-related changes in the central nervous systems underlying circadian rhythmicity and sleep-wake homeostasis. Age-related alterations in circadian function could also reflect decreased exposure and/or responsivity to the synchronizing effects of both photic (e.g. light exposure) and nonphotic (e.g. social cues) inputs. There are pronounced age-related alterations in sleep quality in aging which consist primarily of a marked reduction of slow-wave sleep, a reduction in REM stages and a marked increase in the number and duration of awakenings interrupting sleep. Alterations in slow-wave sleep occur abruptly in young adulthood (30-40 years of age) whereas disturbances in amounts of REM and wake appear more gradually. This article reviews evidence indicating that deficits in characteristics of sleep-wake homeostasis and circadian function may mediate age-related alterations in somatotropic and corticotropic function. Because sleep loss in young subjects results in endocrine disturbances which mimic those observed in aging, it is conceivable that the decrease in sleep quality which characterizes aging may contribute to age-related alterations in hormonal function and their metabolic consequences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology*