The purpose of this study was to determine whether aging influences the circadian variation of nonvalvular paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (AF). Among 31,200 consecutive Holter monitorings recorded between January 1988 and March 1997, we detected 212 patients who had paroxysmal AF in a drug-free state. These patients were divided into 2 groups according to their age: < or = 60 years old (94 patients) and >60 years old (118 patients). In each group, the sum of the duration of each AF episode and the probability of onset, maintenance, and termination of AF were determined as hourly data and compared between the 2 groups. The time distribution of AF showed remarkable age dependence, with a well-modulated and monophasic circadian rhythm in the younger group in contrast to a toneless triphasic rhythm in the older group. Among the onset, maintenance, and termination of the arrhythmia, the most obvious age-dependence was observed in the circadian variation of onset. In the younger group, there were triple peaks with the highest one in the night, whereas the older group exhibited a single peak in the daytime. In contrast, the probabilities of maintenance and termination showed similar circadian patterns between the groups, although their amplitudes were significantly reduced in the older group. Thus, aging significantly influenced the circadian variation of paroxysmal AF, with the most prominent effect on its onset, leading to more random time-distribution of AF with increasing age. These results extend to paroxysmal AF the concept that aging disrupts rhythmicity, suggesting age-dependent differences in its pathophysiology.