Supplementary administration of artificial bright light and melatonin as potent treatment for disorganized circadian rest-activity and dysfunctional autonomic and neuroendocrine systems in institutionalized demented elderly persons

Chronobiol Int. 2000 May;17(3):419-32. doi: 10.1081/cbi-100101055.


Increased daytime napping, early morning awakening, frequent nocturnal sleep interruptions, and lowered amplitude and phase advance of the circadian sleep-wake rhythm are characteristic features of sleep-waking and chronobiological changes associated with aging. Especially in elderly patients with dementia, severely fragmented sleep-waking patterns are observed frequently and are associated with disorganized circadian rhythm of various physiological functions. Functional and/or organic deterioration of the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), decreased exposure to time cues such as insufficient social interaction and reduced environmental light, lowered sensitivity of sensory organs to time cues, and reduced ability of peripheral effector organs to express circadian rhythms may cause these chronobiological changes. In many cases of dementia, the usual treatments for insomnia do not work well, and the development of an effective therapy is an important concern for health care practitioner and researchers. Recent therapeutical trials of supplementary administration of artificial bright light and the pineal hormone melatonin, a potent synchronizer for mammalian circadian rhythm, have indicated that these treatments are useful tools for demented elderly insomniacs. Both bright light and melatonin simultaneously ameliorate disorganized thermoregulatory and neuroendocrine systems associated with disrupted sleep-waking times, suggesting a new, potent therapeutic means for insomnia in the demented elderly. Future studies should address the most effective therapeutic design and the most suitable types of symptoms for treatment and investigate the use of these tools in preventive applications in persons in early stages of dementia.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Circadian Rhythm / drug effects*
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects*
  • Dementia / drug therapy
  • Dementia / physiopathology
  • Dementia / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Institutionalization
  • Melatonin / therapeutic use*
  • Neurosecretory Systems / drug effects
  • Neurosecretory Systems / physiopathology
  • Phototherapy*
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / drug therapy
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sleep Wake Disorders / therapy


  • Melatonin