Temporal relationship between melatonin and cortisol responses to nighttime physical stress in humans

Psychoneuroendocrinology. 1992;17(1):81-6. doi: 10.1016/0306-4530(92)90078-l.


It has been shown that, in the rat, physical stress decreases pineal melatonin levels at night, whereas it increases melatonin production during the day. We have demonstrated that nighttime physical exercise is able to blunt the nocturnal surge of plasma melatonin in healthy subjects. Since this effect might be mediated by exercise-induced cortisol secretion from the adrenal gland, in the present investigation we studied the relationship between cortisol and melatonin responses to nighttime physical stress in six healthy men, aged 28-33 yr. The physical stress consisted of bicycling on a bicycle ergometer at 50% of personal maximum work capacity (MWC), followed by another 10 min of bicycling at 80% of MWC. According to our previous data, physical exercise performed between 2240 h and 2300 h significantly reduced the nocturnal surge of plasma melatonin and increased the levels of cortisol. The surge in plasma cortisol preceded the decrease in plasma melatonin concentration. These findings suggest a temporal relationship between plasma cortisol and melatonin responses to physical stress; the causal nature of this relationship remains to be elucidated.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Reference Values
  • Stress, Physiological / blood*
  • Stress, Physiological / physiopathology


  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone