Melatonin and cortisol in individuals with spinal cord injury

Sleep Med. 2018 Nov:51:92-98. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2018.07.008. Epub 2018 Jul 19.


Study objectives: The aim of this study was to investigate circadian rhythm and sleep complaints in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) as determined by diurnal saliva melatonin and cortisol as well as activity measurements and subjective sleep quality.

Methods: Fourteen patients with cervical SCI (cSCI), six patients with thoracic SCI (tSCI) and eight able-bodied controls all underwent two consecutive weeks wearing a wrist actigraph in addition to filling out a sleep diary. During one 24-h period, cortisol and melatonin were measured at 4-h intervals. Furthermore, participants' sleep quality was assessed using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index (PSQI) and their overall daytime sleepiness was assessed using the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (ESS).

Results: The cSCI group demonstrated lower melatonin levels compared with the tSCI group and the controls at the 24:00 and 04:00 time points. Moreover, at one time point the tSCI group had a higher cortisol level than the cSCI group and the controls. In addition, baseline systolic blood pressure and oxygen saturation were significantly lower in the cSCI group. No differences were found in activity measurements or self-reported sleep quality.

Conclusions: Individuals with cSCI demonstrate reduced melatonin secretion compared with tSCI individuals, but not in other circadian measures. This supports an involvement of melatonergic cervical fibers associated with the cervical lesion.

Keywords: Cortisol; Melatonin; Sleep; Spinal cord injury.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cervical Vertebrae
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Saliva
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae


  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone