Project start: What influence does the inner clock have on mental health?

Humans have an individual inner clock that tells them when they need sleep or when they are particularly productive. This individual sleep-wake rhythm describes the so-called chronotype. How the chronotype is reflected in brain activity and possibly related to mental illness has not yet been clarified in detail. Over the next two years, a study on this topic will be launched at IfADo under the direction of Professor Michael Nitsche, head of department Psychology & Neurosciences.


40 study subjects will be divided into two groups:  The more morning-active "early birds" and the more evening-active "night owls." The focus of the project is to investigate how respective individual performance differences influenced by the chronotype are associated with brain functions: For example, do morning and evening show differences in activated brain areas or neuronal messengers in early and late chronotypes?

For this purpose, participants will have to solve different tasks once in the morning and once in the evening that challenge their memory or attention. During this process, brain activity will be recorded using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). "MRI allows us to explore the basis of the day-specific performance differences in the early-birds and night-owls, such as the availability of neurotransmitters in the brain and the efficiency of communication between brain areas involved in performing a task," Nitsche explains.

Previous studies at IfADo have already shown that chronotypes have a significant influence on brain physiology, cognitive performance and behavior. The results of the current study are intended to deepen this knowledge and provide initial indications of how brain physiological processes might influence the probability of occurrence and course of mental illness as a function of chronotypes. Subsequent studies will investigate the extent to which chronotypes should be considered in the early detection, prevention, and treatment of mental illness.

IfADo scientists will soon be looking for participants for this project. Here you find an overview of all ongoing IfADo studies that require study subjects: IfADo Studies.

Cooperation with the DZPG

The project is carried out in cooperation with the German Center for Mental Health (DZPG). The nationwide center has a foothold in the middle of the Ruhr region and has started its work in May 2023. The goal is to sustainably improve mental health. IfADo scientists from the fields of neuroscience, psychology and ergonomics contribute their expertise.

Scientific contact:
Prof. Dr. Michael Nitsche
Head of department Psychology and Neurosciences
Ardeystrasse 67 Dortmund Nordrhein-Westfalen DE 44139
Dr. Lorena Figueiredo de Melo
Scientific staff
Ardeystrasse 67 Dortmund Nordrhein-Westfalen DE 44139
Press contact:
Verena Kemmler
Press and Public Relations
Ardeystrasse 67 Dortmund Nordrhein-Westfalen DE 44139