Hypersensitivity of melatonin suppression in response to light in patients with delayed sleep phase syndrome

Chronobiol Int. 2001 Mar;18(2):263-71. doi: 10.1081/cbi-100103190.


Patients with delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) experience a chronic mismatch between the usual daily schedule required by the individual's environment and their circadian sleep-wake pattern, resulting in major academic, work, and social problems. Although functional abnormalities of the circadian pacemaker system have been reported in patients with DSPS, the etiology of DSPS has not been fully elucidated. One hypothesis proposed to explain why patients with DSPS fail to synchronize their 24 h sleep-wake cycle to their environment is that they might have reduced sensitivity to environmental time cues, most notably light-dark cycles. Therefore, we compared the sensitivity of melatonin suppression in response to light in patients with DSPS and normal control subjects. Fifteen patients with DSPS and age- and sex-matched healthy controls were studied. As the melatonin secretion rhythm in patients with DSPS was expected to be delayed compared to the controls, the time of peak melatonin secretion was determined in each subject in the first session. In the second session, each subject was exposed to light with an intensity of 1000 lux for 2 h beginning 2 h prior to his or her peak melatonin secretion. Melatonin was measured by radioimmunoassay in saliva sampled every 30 minutes during the period of light exposure. Suppression of the melatonin concentration in saliva was dependent on duration of light exposure. In addition, the suppressive effect of light on the melatonin concentration was significantly greater in patients with DSPS than in control subjects. The results suggest hypersensitivity to nighttime light exposure in patients with this syndrome. Our findings therefore suggest that evening light restriction is important for preventing patients with DSPS from developing a sleep phase delay.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Male
  • Melatonin / analysis
  • Melatonin / blood
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Parasomnias / physiopathology*
  • Saliva / chemistry


  • Melatonin