Chronotype, sleep loss, and diurnal pattern of salivary cortisol in a simulated daylong driving

Halszka Oginska, Magdalena Fafrowicz, Krystyna Golonka, Tadeusz Marek, Justyna Mojsa-Kaja, Kinga Tucholska
Chronobiology International 2010, 27 (5): 959-74
The study focused on chronotype-related differences in subjective load assessment, sleepiness, and salivary cortisol pattern in subjects performing daylong simulated driving. Individual differences in work stress appraisal and psychobiological cost of prolonged load seem to be of importance in view of expanding compressed working time schedules. Twenty-one healthy, male volunteers (mean +/- SD: 27.9 +/- 4.9 yrs) were required to stay in semiconstant routine conditions. They performed four sessions (each lasting approximately 2.5 h) of simulated driving, i.e., completed chosen tasks from computer driving games. Saliva samples were collected after each driving session, i.e., at 10:00-11:00, 14:00-15:00, 18:00-19:00, and 22:00-23:00 h as well as 10-30 min after waking (between 05:00 and 06:00 h) and at bedtime (after 00:00 h). Two subgroups of subjects were distinguished on the basis of the Chronotype Questionnaire: morning (M)- and evening (E)-oriented types. Subjective data on sleep need, sleeping time preferences, sleeping problems, and the details of the preceding night were investigated by questionnaire. Subjective measures of task load (NASA Task Load Index [NASA-TLX]), activation (Thayer's Activation-Deactivation Adjective Check List [AD ACL]), and sleepiness (Karolinska Sleepiness Scale [KSS]) were applied at times of saliva samples collection. M- and E-oriented types differed significantly as to their ideal sleep length (6 h 54 min +/- 44 versus 8 h 13 min +/- 50 min), preferred sleep timing (midpoint at 03:19 versus 04:26), and sleep index, i.e., 'real-to-ideal' sleep ratio, before the experimental day (0.88 versus 0.67). Sleep deficit proved to be integrated with eveningness. M and E types exhibited similar diurnal profiles of energy, tiredness, tension, and calmness assessed by AD ACL, but E types estimated higher their workload (NASA-TLX) and sleepiness (KSS). M types exhibited a trend of higher mean cortisol levels than E types (F = 4.192, p < .056) and distinct diurnal variation (F = 2.950, p < .019), whereas E types showed a flattened diurnal curve. Cortisol values did not correlate with subjective assessments of workload, arousal, or sleepiness at any time-of-day. Diurnal cortisol pattern parameters (i.e., morning level, mean level, and range of diurnal changes) showed significant positive correlations with sleep length before the experiment (r = .48, .54, and .53, respectively) and with sleep index (r = .63, .64, and .56, respectively). The conclusions of this study are: (i) E-oriented types showed lower salivary cortisol levels and a flattened diurnal curve in comparison with M types; (ii) sleep loss was associated with lower morning cortisol and mean diurnal level, whereas higher cortisol levels were observed in rested individuals. In the context of stress theory, it may be hypothesized that rested subjects perceived the driving task as a challenge, whereas those with reduced sleep were not challenged, but bored/exhausted with the experimental situation.

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