The effects of self-selected light-dark cycles and social constraints on human sleep and circadian timing: A modeling approach

Anne C. Skeldon, Andrew J.K. Phillips, Derk Jan Dijk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

104 Citations (Scopus)


Why do we go to sleep late and struggle to wake up on time Historically, light-dark cycles were dictated by the solar day, but now humans can extend light exposure by switching on artificial lights. We use a mathematical model incorporating effects of light, circadian rhythmicity and sleep homeostasis to provide a quantitative theoretical framework to understand effects of modern patterns of light consumption on the human circadian system. The model shows that without artificial light humans wakeup at dawn. Artificial light delays circadian rhythmicity and preferred sleep timing and compromises synchronisation to the solar day when wake-times are not enforced. When wake-times are enforced by social constraints, such as work or school, artificial light induces a mismatch between sleep timing and circadian rhythmicity (â social jet-lag'). The model implies that developmental changes in sleep homeostasis and circadian amplitude make adolescents particularly sensitive to effects of light consumption. The model predicts that ameliorating social jet-lag is more effectively achieved by reducing evening light consumption than by delaying social constraints, particularly in individuals with slow circadian clocks or when imposed wake-times occur after sunrise. These theory-informed predictions may aid design of interventions to prevent and treat circadian rhythm-sleep disorders and social jet-lag.

Original languageEnglish
Article number45158
Number of pages14
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 27 Mar 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • circadian rhythms and sleep
  • computational models

Cite this