Less exposure to daily ambient light in winter increases sensitivity of melatonin to light suppression

Chronobiol Int. 2007;24(1):31-43. doi: 10.1080/07420520601139805.


This study was carried out to examine the seasonal difference in the magnitude of the suppression of melatonin secretion induced by exposure to light in the late evening. The study was carried out in Akita (39 degrees North, 140 degrees East), in the northern part of Japan, where the duration of sunshine in winter is the shortest. Ten healthy male university students (mean age: 21.9+/-1.2 yrs) volunteered to participate twice in the study in winter (from January to February) and summer (from June to July) 2004. According to Japanese meteorological data, the duration of sunshine in Akita in the winter (50.5 h/month) is approximately one-third of that in summer (159.7 h/month). Beginning one week prior to the start of the experiment, the level of daily ambient light to which each subject was exposed was recorded every minute using a small light sensor that was attached to the subject's wrist. In the first experiment, saliva samples were collected every hour over a period of 24 h in a dark experimental room (<15 lux) to determine peak salivary melatonin concentration. The second experiment was conducted after the first experiment to determine the percentage of melatonin suppression induced by exposure to light. The starting time of exposure to light was set 2 h before the time of peak salivary melatonin concentration detected in the first experiment. The subjects were exposed to light (1000 lux) for 2 h using white fluorescent lamps (4200 K). The percentage of suppression of melatonin by light was calculated on the basis of the melatonin concentration determined before the start of exposure to light. The percentage of suppression of melatonin 2 h after the start of exposure to light was significantly greater in winter (66.6+/-18.4%) than summer (37.2+/-33.2%), p<0.01). The integrated level of daily ambient light from rising time to bedtime in summer was approximately twice that in winter. The results suggest that the increase in suppression of melatonin by light in winter is caused by less exposure to daily ambient light.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects*
  • Darkness*
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Meteorological Concepts
  • Saliva / chemistry
  • Saliva / radiation effects
  • Seasons*


  • Melatonin