A classification approach to estimating human circadian phase under circadian alignment from actigraphy and photometry data

Lindsey S. Brown, Melissa A. St. Hilaire, Andrew W. McHill, Andrew J.K. Phillips, Laura K. Barger, Akane Sano, Charles A. Czeisler, Francis J. Doyle, Elizabeth B. Klerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


The time of dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) is the gold standard for circadian phase assessment in humans, but collection of samples for DLMO is time and resource-intensive. Numerous studies have attempted to estimate circadian phase from actigraphy data, but most of these studies have involved individuals on controlled and stable sleep-wake schedules, with mean errors reported between 0.5 and 1 hour. We found that such algorithms are less successful in estimating DLMO in a population of college students with more irregular schedules: Mean errors in estimating the time of DLMO are approximately 1.5-1.6 hours. We reframed the problem as a classification problem and estimated whether an individual's current phase was before or after DLMO. Using a neural network, we found high classification accuracy of about 90%, which decreased the mean error in DLMO estimation—identifying the time at which the switch in classification occurs—to approximately 1.3 hours. To test whether this classification approach was valid when activity and circadian rhythms are decoupled, we applied the same neural network to data from inpatient forced desynchrony studies in which participants are scheduled to sleep and wake at all circadian phases (rather than their habitual schedules). In participants on forced desynchrony protocols, overall classification accuracy dropped to 55%-65% with a range of 20%-80% for a given day; this accuracy was highly dependent upon the phase angle (ie, time) between DLMO and sleep onset, with the highest accuracy at phase angles associated with nighttime sleep. Circadian patterns in activity, therefore, should be included when developing and testing actigraphy-based approaches to circadian phase estimation. Our novel algorithm may be a promising approach for estimating the onset of melatonin in some conditions and could be generalized to other hormones.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12745
JournalJournal of Pineal Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 2021


  • actigraphy
  • biological clocks
  • circadian rhythm
  • classification
  • machine learning
  • melatonin
  • shift-work

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Endocrinology


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