Alterations in serum melatonin and sleep in individuals in a sub-arctic region from winter to spring

Int J Circumpolar Health. 2003 Sep;62(3):242-54. doi: 10.3402/ijch.v62i3.17561.


Methods: In a sub-arctic region at 69 degrees N, seven individuals with self-reported insomnia during the 'dark period' and seven without, were followed with repeated measures of melatonin and questioned on ten different sleep variables, from the beginning of January to the vernal equinox in March.

Results: The distribution of melatonin over a 24-hour period (five time points) indicated an increase in melatonin levels in both groups in the middle of January and a decrease at the time of year when the sun first rises over the horizon (23rd-24th of January). Moreover, an indication of a delayed phase shift of melatonin secretion was found during the dark period, which returned to "normal" secretion during the night at the equinox in March. Individuals with sleep problems had a slower return to "normal" melatonin secretion than those without sleep problems. A positive correlation between morning tiredness and morning levels of melatonin was found among individuals with sleep disturbances, but not in controls.

Conclusion: This study indicates changes in the internal circadian rhythm in humans at the end of the annual dark period of winter when there is a rapid increase in the number of hours of sunlight. For vulnerable individuals, the disturbance in sleep, and in particlar morning tiredness, lasts at least until the vernal equinox in March.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arctic Regions
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Darkness
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melatonin / blood
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Middle Aged
  • Seasons*
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / blood
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / ethnology
  • Sleep Initiation and Maintenance Disorders / physiopathology
  • Sleep*


  • Melatonin