The circadian rhythm of tryptophan in breast milk affects the rhythms of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin and sleep in newborn

Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2005 Dec;26(6):657-61.


Introduction: The hormone melatonin regulates the sleep and this pineal hormone is synthesized in the organism from the amino acid tryptophan. It is known that breast-fed babies have better sleep patterns and a better entrained sleep/wake cycle than bottle-fed babies (adapted formula).

Objective: To compare the circadian rhythm of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin (aMT6s)--the metabolite of melatonin excreted in the urine--in urine of bottle-fed and breast-fed children, and relate it to the circadian rhythm of tryptophan in breast milk, also evaluating the possible effects on the baby's night-time rest.

Methods: 16 infants of 12 weeks of age were studied, divided into two groups depending on their exclusively natural or artificial feeding. The circadian rhythm of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin in urine was measured for the two groups of infants and for the breast-feeding mothers. In the breast milk, the circadian rhythm of the amino acid tryptophan was measured. The rest of the infants was tested by wrist actimeters for a week and the sleep parameters of the infants were measured and evaluated.

Results: The tryptophan in the breast milk presented a circadian rhythm with acrophase at around 03:00. This affected the 6-sulfatoxymelatonin circadian rhythm with acrophase at 06:00 in the breast-fed infants, and also promoted nocturnal sleep. Assumed sleep, actual sleep, and sleep efficiency were significantly increased in the breast fed infants with respect the formula fed infants.

Conclusion: A temporal relationship was observed between the circadian rhythm of 6-sulfatoxymelatonin of the exclusively breast-fed babies and that of tryptophan in the mother's milk. Acting this amino acid as a zeitgeber entrainment of the biological rhythms in the breast-fed infant.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bottle Feeding
  • Breast Feeding
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Melatonin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Melatonin / urine
  • Milk, Human / metabolism*
  • Reference Values
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Tryptophan / metabolism*


  • 6-sulfatoxymelatonin
  • Tryptophan
  • Melatonin