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Sleep restriction masks the influence of the circadian process on sleep propensity

journal contribution
posted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Charli Sargent, David Darwent, Sally Ferguson, D Kennaway, Gregory Roach
Previous forced desynchrony studies have highlighted the close relationship between the circadian rhythms of core body temperature (CBT) and sleep propensity. In particular, these studies have shown that a “forbidden zone” for sleep exists on the rising limb of the CBT rhythm. In these previous studies, the length of the experimental day was either ultrashort (90 min), short (20 h), or long (28 h), and the ratio of sleep to wake was normal (i.e., 1:2). The aim of the current study was to examine the relative effects of the circadian and homeostatic processes on sleep propensity using a 28-h forced desynchrony protocol in which the ratio of sleep to wake was substantially lower than normal (i.e., 1:5). Twenty-seven healthy males lived in a time-isolation sleep laboratory for 11 consecutive days. Participants completed either a control (n = 13) or sleep restriction (n = 14) condition. In both conditions, the protocol consisted of 2 × 24-h baseline days followed by 8 × 28-h forced desynchrony days. On forced desynchrony days, the control group had 9.3 h in bed and 18.7 h of wake, and the sleep restriction group had 4.7 h in bed and 23.3 h of wake. For all participants, each 30-s epoch of time in bed was scored as sleep or wake based on standard polysomnography recordings, and was also assigned a circadian phase (360° = 24 h) based on a cosine equation fitted to continuously recorded CBT data. For each circadian phase (i.e., 72 × 5° bins), sleep propensity was calculated as the percentage of epochs spent in bed scored as sleep. For the control group, there was a clear circadian rhythm in sleep propensity, with a peak of 98.5% at 5° (∼05:20 h), a trough of 64.9% at 245° (∼21:20 h), and an average of 82.3%. In contrast, sleep propensity for the sleep restriction group was relatively high at all circadian phases, with an average of 96.7%. For this group, the highest sleep propensity (99.0%) occurred at 60° (∼09:00 h), and the lowest sleep propensity (91.3%) occurred at 265° (∼22:40 h). As has been shown previously, these current data indicate that with a normal sleep-to-wake ratio, the effect of the circadian process on sleep propensity is pronounced, such that a forbidden zone for sleep exists at a phase equivalent to evening time for a normally entrained individual. However, these current data also indicate that when the ratio of sleep to wake is substantially lower than normal, this circadian effect is masked. In particular, sleep propensity is very high at all circadian phases, including those that coincide with the forbidden zone for sleep. This finding suggests that if the homeostatic pressure for sleep is sufficiently high, then the circadian drive for wakefulness can be overridden. In future studies, it will be important to determine whether or not this masking effect occurs with less severe sleep restriction, e.g., with a sleep-to-wake ratio of 1:3.


Category 1 - Australian Competitive Grants (this includes ARC, NHMRC)






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New York


Pergamon Press



Peer Reviewed


Open Access


External Author Affiliations

Appleton Institute for Behavioural Sciences; Appleton Institute for Behavioural Sciences; Centre for Sleep Research; Medical School;

Era Eligible



Chronobiology international : the journal of biological and medical rhythm research.