Daily exercise facilitates phase delays of circadian melatonin rhythm in very dim light

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2004 Jun;286(6):R1077-84. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00397.2003. Epub 2004 Mar 18.


Shift workers and transmeridian travelers are exposed to abnormal work-rest cycles, inducing a change in the phase relationship between the sleep-wake cycle and the endogenous circadian timing system. Misalignment of circadian phase is associated with sleep disruption and deterioration of alertness and cognitive performance. Exercise has been investigated as a behavioral countermeasure to facilitate circadian adaptation. In contrast to previous studies where results might have been confounded by ambient light exposure, this investigation was conducted under strictly controlled very dim light (standing approximately 0.65 lux; angle of gaze) conditions to minimize the phase-resetting effects of light. Eighteen young, fit males completed a 15-day randomized clinical trial in which circadian phase was measured in a constant routine before and after exposure to a week of nightly bouts of exercise or a nonexercise control condition after a 9-h delay in the sleep-wake schedule. Plasma samples collected every 30-60 min were analyzed for melatonin to determine circadian phase. Subjects who completed three 45-min bouts of cycle ergometry each night showed a significantly greater shift in the dim light melatonin onset (DLMO(25%)), dim light melatonin offset, and midpoint of the melatonin profile compared with nonexercising controls (Student t-test; P < 0.05). The magnitude of phase delay induced by the exercise intervention was significantly dependent on the relative timing of the exercise after the preintervention DLMO(25%) (r = -0.73, P < 0.05) such that the closer to the DLMO(25%), the greater the phase shift. These data suggest that exercise may help to facilitate circadian adaptation to schedules requiring a delay in the sleep-wake cycle.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bicycling / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Environment
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Hormones / blood
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Physical Fitness / physiology


  • Hormones
  • Melatonin