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Appl Ergon. 2013 Jan;44(1):109-11. doi: 10.1016/j.apergo.2012.05.007. Epub 2012 Jun 12.

Can small shifts in circadian phase affect performance?

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  • 1Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago, IL 60612, USA.


Small shifts in circadian timing occur frequently as a result of daylight saving time or later weekend sleep. These subtle shifts in circadian phase have been shown to influence subjective sleepiness, but it remains unclear if they can significantly affect performance. In a retrospective analysis we examined performance on the Psychomotor Vigilance Test before bedtime and after wake time in 11 healthy adults on fixed sleep schedules based on their habitual sleep times. The dim light melatonin onset, a marker of circadian timing, was measured on two occasions. An average 1.1 h shift away from a proposed optimal circadian phase angle (6 h between melatonin onset and midpoint of sleep) significantly slowed mean, median and fastest 10% reaction times before bedtime and after wake time (p < 0.05). These results add to previous reports that suggest that humans may be sensitive to commonly occurring small shifts in circadian timing.

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