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Chronotype is an attribute of human beings reflecting whether they are alert and prefer to be active early or late in the day. The continuum is often referred to as “morningness/eveningness” or “larks” and “owls” where morning people wake up early and are most alert in the first part of the day and evening people are most alert in the evening hours and prefer to go to bed late. Chronotype is also referred to as circadian type, diurnal preference or diurnal variation.
Normal variation in chronotypes encompasses sleep/wake cycles that are from about two hours earlier to about two hours later than average. Extremes outside of this range can cause a person difficulty in participating in normal work, school, and social activities. If a person's "lark" or (more commonly) "owl" tendencies are strong and intractable to the point of disallowing normal participation in society, the person is considered to have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder.
The 20th century saw greatly increased interest in and research on all questions about sleep. Tremendous strides have been made in molecular, neural and medical aspects of biological rhythmicity. Physiology professor Nathaniel Kleitman's book Sleep and Wakefulness, 1939, revised 1963, summarized the existing knowledge of sleep, and it was he who proposed the existence of a basic rest-activity cycle. Kleitman, with his students including William C. Dement and Eugene Aserinsky, continued his research throughout the 1900s.
O. Öquist’s thesis, 1970, at the Department of Psychology, University of Göteborg, Sweden, introduces the modern research into chronotypes. It is entitled “Kartläggning av individuella dygnsrytmer”, Charting Individual Circadian Rhythms. O. Östberg modified Öquist’s questionnaire and in 1976, together with J. A. Horne, he published the Morningness - Eveningness Questionnaire, MEQ, which still is used and referred to in virtually all research on this topic. A short version can be found online.
Researchers in many countries have worked on validating the MEQ with regard to their local cultures. A revision of the scoring of the MEQ as well as a component analysis was done by Jacques Taillard et al in 2004, working with employed people over the age of 50, as the MEQ previously had been validated only for subjects of university age.
Several other assessment tools have been developed including the Circadian Type Inventory (Folkard 1987); Composite Morningness Questionnaire (Smith 1989); the Lark-Owl Chronotype Indicator, LOCI (Roberts 1999), and Munich Chronotype Questionnaire, MCTQ (Roenneberg 2003). Some of these are designed with particular situations in mind, such as shift work scheduling, travel fatigue and jet lag, athletic performance or best timing of medical procedures.
Most people are neither evening nor morning types but lie somewhere in between. Estimates vary, but up to half are either morning or evening people. People who share a chronotype, morningness or eveningness, have similar activity-pattern timing: sleep, appetite, exercise, study etc. Researchers in the field of chronobiology look for objective markers by which to measure the chronotype spectrum.
- Horne and Östberg, 1976, found that morning types had a higher daytime temperature with an earlier peak time than evening types and that they went to sleep and awoke earlier, while no differences in sleep lengths were found. They also note that age should be considered in assessments of morningness and eveningness, noting how a "bed time of 23:30 may be indicative of a Morning type within a student population, but might be more related to an Evening type in the 40-60 years age group" (Horne & Östberg, 1976, p109).
- Clodoré et al, France, 1986, find differences in alertness between morning and evening types after a two hour sleep reduction.
- Gibertini et al, USA, 1999, assessed blood levels of the hormone melatonin, finding that the melatonin acrophase (the time at which the peak of a rhythm occurs) was strongly related to circadian type while amplitude was not. They note that morning types evidence a more rapid decline in melatonin levels after the peak than do evening types.
- Duffy et al, USA, 1999, found that while evening types woke at a later clock hour than morning types, morning types woke at a later circadian phase; that is, the interval between circadian phase and usual wake time was longer in morning types.
- Baehr et al, USA, 2000, found that the daily body temperature minimum occurred at about 4 in the morning for morning types and at about 6 for evening types in young adults. This minimum occurred at approximately the middle of the eight hour sleep period, but closer to wake in evening types. Evening types had a lower nocturnal temperature. The temperature minimum occurred about a half hour earlier in women than in men. Similar results were found by Mongrain et al in Canada, 2004.
- Zavada et al, The Netherlands, 2005, show that the time of mid-sleep on free (non-work) days may be the best marker for sleep-based assessments of chronotype, correlating well with such physiological markers as Dim-Light Melatonin Onset (DLMO) and the minimum of the daily cortisol rhythm. They also state that each chronotype category “contains a similar portion of short and long sleepers”.
- Giampietro and Cavallera, Italy, 2006, refer to many studies in their examination of the relationship between chronotypes, personality and creative thinking.
- Paine et al, New Zealand, 2006, conclude that “morningness/eveningness preference is largely independent of ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic position, indicating that it is a stable characteristic that may be better explained by endogenous factors.”
- Logie, Bruce. Larks and Owls. URL accessed on 2007-11-02.
- American Academy of Sleep Medicine International Classification of Sleep Disorders, Revised Edition 2001.
- Kleitman, Nathaniel [1939, 1963]. Sleep and Wakefulness, The University of Chicago Press.
- Horne, J.A., Östberg, O. (1976). A self-assessment questionnaire to determine morningness-eveningness in human circadian rhythms. International Journal of Chronobiology 4: 97 - 110.
- Morningness-Eveningness Scale. Bruce Logie. URL accessed on 2007-11-02.
- Taillard, Jacques et al (2004). Validation of Horne and Ostberg Morningness-Eveningness Questionnaire in a Middle-Aged Population of French Workers. Journal of Biological Rhythms 19 (1): 76 - 86.
- Clodoré, M., Foret J., Benoit O. (1986). Diurnal variation in subjective and objective measures of sleepiness: the effects of sleep reduction and circadian type. Chronobiol Int. 3 (4): 255-63.
- Gibertini, M., Graham C., Cook M.R. (1999). Self-report of circadian type reflects the phase of the melatonin rhythm. Biol psychol. 50 (1): 19 - 33.
- Dictionary of Circadian Physiology. Circadian Rhythm Laboratory, University of South Carolina Salkehatchie, Walterboro campus.
- Duffy, J.F., Dijk DJ, Hall EF, Czeisler CA (1999). Relationship of endogenous circadian melatonin and temperature rhythms to self-reported preference for morning or evening activity in young and older people. J Investig Med 47 (3): 141-50.
- Baehr, E.K., Revelle W, Eastman CI (2000). Individual differences in the phase and amplitude of the human circadian temperature rhythm: with an emphasis on morningness-eveningness. J Sleep Res. 9 (2): 117-27.
- Mongrain, V., Lavoie S, Selmaoui B, Paquet J, Dumont M (2004). Phase relationships between sleep-wake cycle and underlying circadian rhythms in Morningness-Eveningness. J Biol Rhythms 19 (3): 248-57.
- Zavada, Andrei, Gordijn, Beersma, Daan, Roenneberg (2005). Comparison of the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire with the Horne-Östberg’s Morningness-Eveningness Score. Chronobiol. Int. 22: 267-78.
- (2006). Morning and evening types and creative thinking. Elsevier Ltd. URL accessed on 2007-11-02.
- Paine, Sarah-Jane, Gander Philippa H., Travier Noemie (2006). The Epidemology of Morningness/Eveningness: Influence of Age, Gender, Ethnicity, and Socioeconomic Factors in Adults (30-49 Years). Journal of Biological Rhythms 21 (1): 68 - 76.
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