The viability of an ecologically valid chronic sleep restriction and circadian timing protocol: An examination of sample attrition, compliance, and effectiveness at impacting sleepiness and mood

David L Dickinson, Sean P. A. Drummond, Todd McElroy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Chronic sleep restriction (SR) increases sleepiness, negatively impacts mood, and impairs a variety of cognitive performance measures. The vast majority of work establishing these effects are tightly controlled in-lab experimental studies. Examining commonly-experienced levels of SR in naturalistic settings is more difficult and generally involves observational methods, rather than active manipulations of sleep. The same is true for analyzing behavioral and cognitive outcomes at circadian unfavorable times. The current study tested the ability of an at-home protocol to manipulate sleep schedules (i.e., impose SR), as well as create a mismatch between a subject's circadian preference and time of testing. Viability of the protocol was assessed via completion, compliance with the SR, and success at manipulating sleepiness and mood. An online survey was completed by 3630 individuals to assess initial eligibility, 256 agreed via email response to participate in the 3-week study, 221 showed for the initial in-person session, and 184 completed the protocol (175 with complete data). The protocol consisted of 1 week at-home SR (5-6 hours in bed/night), 1 week washout, and 1 week well-rested (WR: 8-9 hours in bed/night). Sleep was monitored with actigraphy, diary, and call-ins. Risk management strategies were implemented for subject safety. At the end of each experimental week, subjects reported sleepiness and mood ratings. Protocol completion was 83%, with lower depression scores, higher anxiety scores, and morning session assignment predicting completion. Compliance with the sleep schedule was also very good. Subjects spent approximately 2 hours less time in bed/night and obtained an average of 1.5 hours less nightly sleep during SR, relative to WR, with 82% of subjects obtaining at least 60 minutes less average nightly sleep. Sleepiness and mood were impacted as expected by SR. These findings show the viability of studying experimental chronic sleep restriction outside the laboratory, assuming appropriate safety precautions are taken, thus allowing investigators to significantly increase ecological validity over strictly controlled in-lab studies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0174367
Number of pages17
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Mar 2017


  • sleep
  • chronobiology
  • surveys
  • anxiety
  • caffeine
  • risk management
  • circadian rhythms
  • young adults

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