No effects of repeated forced wakings during three consecutive nights on morning cortisol awakening responses (CAR): a preliminary study

Lucia Dettenborn, Franziska Rosenloecher, Clemens Kirschbaum
Psychoneuroendocrinology 2007, 32 (8): 915-21

OBJECTIVE: The cortisol awakening response (CAR) is considered a reliable measure for the acute reagibility of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. Whether repeated nightly awakenings at different times during the night also stimulate the HPA-axis and whether, consequently, the CAR is altered has not been tested, so far. We aimed to investigate whether three experimentally induced awakenings during three consecutive nights would be associated with HPA-axis stimulation and an altered morning CAR.

METHODS: The study sample consisted of 13 healthy adult women who were waken up three times in each of three consecutive nights. Cortisol levels were measured immediately and 15 min after each awakening in the night and in the morning, respectively. Also, the morning CARs after three nights of undisturbed sleep were assessed.

RESULTS: A significant difference between night time cortisol responses to awakening and the morning CAR was found. While cortisol levels during the first half of the night did not rise significantly after awakening in the night, some reactivity was seen during awakenings in the very early morning hours, and pronounced awakening responses were observed in the morning before getting out of bed. Interestingly, the morning CAR after disturbed sleep did not differ from the morning CAR following undisturbed sleep.

CONCLUSION: In healthy female individuals, the morning CAR appears to be unchanged even if sleep was repeatedly interrupted by forced wakings.

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