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J Circadian Rhythms. 2007 Jul 10;5:4.

Circadian phase response curves to light in older and young women and men.

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Department of Psychiatry and Sam and Rose Stein Institute on Aging, University of California, San Diego #0667, La Jolla, California 92093-0667, USA.



The phase of a circadian rhythm reflects where the peak and the trough occur, for example, the peak and trough of performance within the 24 h. Light exposure can shift this phase. More extensive knowledge of the human circadian phase response to light is needed to guide light treatment for shiftworkers, air travelers, and people with circadian rhythm phase disorders. This study tested the hypotheses that older adults have absent or weaker phase-shift responses to light (3000 lux), and that women's responses might differ from those of men.


After preliminary health screening and home actigraphic recording baselines, 50 young adults (ages 18-31 years) and 56 older adults (ages 59-75 years) remained in light-controlled laboratory surroundings for 4.7 to 5.6 days, while experiencing a 90-min ultra-short sleep-wake cycle. Following at least 30 h in-lab baseline, over the next 51 h, participants were given 3 treatments with 3000 lux white light, each treatment for 3 h, centered at one of 8 clock times. The circadian rhythms of urinary aMT6s (a melatonin metabolite), free cortisol, oral temperature, and wrist activity were assessed at baseline and after treatment.


Light (3000 lux for 3 h on 3 days) induced maximal phase shifts of about 3 h. Phase shifts did not differ significantly in amplitude among older and young groups or among women and men. At home and at baseline, compared to the young, the older adults were significantly phase-advanced in sleep, cortisol, and aMT6s onset, but not advanced in aMT6s acrophase or the temperature rhythm. The inflection from delays to advances was approximately 1.8 h earlier among older compared to young participants in reference to their aMT6s rhythm peaks, and it was earlier in clock time.


In these experimental conditions, 3000 lux light could shift the phase of circadian rhythms to about the same extent among older and young adults, but the optimal light timing for phase shifting differed. For an interval near 4 PM, bright light produced only negligible phase shifts for either age group.

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