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Paper Chase

Association of sleep-wake habits in older people with changes in output of circadian pacemaker.

Lancet. Oct 17, 1992;340(8825):933-6.
Czeisler CA, Dumont M, Duffy JF, Steinberg JD, Richardson GS, Brown EN, Sánchez R, Ríos CD, Ronda JM.

Harvard Med Sch, Boston, MA


Many elderly people complain of disturbed sleep patterns but there is not evidence that the need to sleep decreases with age; it seems rather that the timing and consolidation of sleep change. We tried to find out whether there is a concurrent change in the output of the circadian pacemaker with age. The phase and amplitude of the pacemaker's output were assessed by continuous measurement of the core body temperature during 40 h of sustained wakefulness under constant behavioural and environmental conditions. 27 young men (18-31 years) were compared with 21 older people (65-85 years; 11 men, 10 women); all were healthy and without sleep complaints. The mean amplitude of the endogenous circadian temperature oscillation (ECA) was 40% greater in young men than in the older group. Older men had a lower mean temperature ECA than older women. The minimum of the endogenous phase of the circadian temperature oscillation (ECP) occurred 1 h 52 min earlier in the older than in the young group. Customary bedtimes and waketimes were also earlier in the older group, as was their daily alertness peak. There was a close correlation between habitual waketime and temperature ECP in young men, which may lose precision with age, especially among women. These findings provide evidence for systematic age-related changes in the output of the human circadian pacemaker. We suggest that these changes may underlie the common complaints of sleep disturbance among elderly people. These changes could reflect the observed age-related deterioration of the hypothalamic nuclei that drive mammalian circadian rhythms.