Diminished melatonin secretion in the elderly caused by insufficient environmental illumination

J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2001 Jan;86(1):129-34. doi: 10.1210/jcem.86.1.7097.


The pineal hormone melatonin has some circadian regulatory effects and is assumed to have a close relation with sleep initiation and maintenance. Many previous reports have described age-related decreases in melatonin levels, especially in elderly insomniacs (EIs), which may act as causal or exacerbating factors in sleep disturbances in the elderly. Ten elderly residents with psychophysiological insomnia (mean age, 74.2 yr), 10 healthy residents of the same home [elderly control (EC) group; mean age, 72.7 yr], and 10 healthy young control subjects (mean age, 20.9 yr) living at home participated in this study. The elderly persons, especially the EIs, were exposed to significantly less environmental light and simultaneously suffered from significantly diminished nocturnal melatonin secretion. Supplementary exposure to 4 h (1000 to 1200 h, 1400 to 1600 h) of midday bright light in the EI group significantly increased melatonin secretion to levels similar to those in the young control group without circadian phase-shifting. There was a tendency for the magnitude of the increase in nocturnal melatonin secretion stimulated by bright light to parallel amelioration of sleep disturbances in these subjects. The present findings suggest that we need to pay attention to elderly individuals who suffer under conditions of poor environmental light resulting in disorganized circadian rhythms, including the sleep-wake cycle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / metabolism*
  • Aging / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lighting*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Periodicity
  • Reference Values
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / physiopathology


  • Melatonin