Pupil size is regulated exclusively by the autonomic nervous system, and in darkness is proportional to the level of central sympathetic tone. Spontaneous pupillary movements, while at rest in darkness and quiet, were recorded for a period of 11 min, using infrared video pupillography. Thirteen young adults took part in a 30-h experiment lasting from 08.00 h to 14.00 h on the following day. Pupillographic testing and completion of a self-rated scale for the estimate of sleepiness were repeated every two hours. Pupillary unrest index (PUI), as a measure of pupil size instability associated with daytime sleepiness, showed the lowest values at 09.00 h, when pupil size was found to be maximal, and 23.00 h. During the course of the day, amplitude spectrum ≤0.8 Hz and PUI showed increasing values during the afternoon hours, followed by a decrease during the evening. Daytime variations in the pupillary unrest index in healthy normal subjects were found to be positively correlated with the level of alertness. These findings are similar to the daytime variations found by the MSLT (multiple sleep latency test) in young adults.
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