DOI: 10.1002/alz.072892 ISSN: 1552-5260

Circadian rhythms in older adults are associated with sleep quality, cognitive function, and ß‐amyloid burden: an accelerometry analysis of the Lifestyle Enriching Activities for Research in Neuroscience Intervention Trial ‐ LEARNit

Joanna L Eckhardt, A. Lisette Isenberg, Joy Stradford, Vahan Aslanyan, Laura E. Fenton, Teresa Monreal, Judy Pa
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Several studies demonstrate circadian rhythm disturbances in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. However, less is known about circadian rhythms in older adults with early mild cognitive impairment. Wrist‐worn accelerometers provide continuous, objective, high resolution quantification of 24‐hour rest activity rhythms. This study examines the relationship between circadian rhythms and sleep, cognition, and ß‐amyloid (Aß) burden.


This study examines baseline data from the “Lifestyle Enriching Activities for Research in Neuroscience Intervention Trial” (LEARNit). Sixty‐six older adults ages 55‐80 experiencing early cognitive changes wore a GENEActiv accelerometer for approximately 30 consecutive days. Accelerometer data was analyzed using the R package GGIR (version 2.8‐1), and circadian rhythm measures were extracted using the GGIR secondary package ActCR (version 0.3.0). Circadian rhythm variables include intradaily variability (fragmentation), interdaily stability (rhythm synchronization to light‐dark cycle), acrotime (peak activity time), and Midline Estimated Statistics of Rhythm or MESOR (mean activity level). Up‐MESOR and Down‐MESOR represent the timing of activity increasing above or decreasing below MESOR, respectively—lower values of each indicate a phase advance (shift towards morning), whereas higher values indicate a phase delay (shift towards evening). Sleep was assessed as mean sleep efficiency and Wake After Sleep Onset, or WASO (accumulated wakefulness after sleep onset). Cognitive tests include the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) for global cognition and attention/processing speed (Digit Symbol Task). Aß burden was measured by positron emission tomography standard uptake value ratio for fifty‐six participants. Age‐adjusted linear regression models were used to test associations between circadian rhythms and sleep, cognition, and Aß.


Participant characteristics are summarized in Table 1 and results are summarized in Figure 1. Intradaily variability (b = ‐0.095, p = 0.03) and interdaily stability (b = 0.34, p = 0.01) were both associated with mean sleep efficiency. Intradaily variability (b = 1.41, p<0.001) and interdaily stability (b = ‐4.45, p<0.001) were associated with WASO. Up‐MESOR was associated with MoCA total score (b = ‐0.41, p = 0.03). Up‐MESOR (b = ‐2.12, p = 0.006), Down‐MESOR (b = ‐1.99, p = 0.02), and acrotime (b = ‐4.20, p<0.001) were associated with Digit Symbol score. Down‐MESOR was significantly associated with Aß (b = ‐0.029, p = 0.02).


Circadian rhythm robustness is positively associated with better sleep quality. Participants with dynamic circadian rhythm phases demonstrated poorer cognition and higher Aß burden.

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