Nocturnal Melatonin Suppression by Adolescents and Adults for Different Levels, Spectra, and Durations of Light Exposure

J Biol Rhythms. 2019 Apr;34(2):178-194. doi: 10.1177/0748730419828056. Epub 2019 Feb 25.


The human circadian system is primarily regulated by the 24-h LD cycle incident on the retina, and nocturnal melatonin suppression is a primary outcome measure for characterizing the biological clock's response to those light exposures. A limited amount of data related to the combined effects of light level, spectrum, and exposure duration on nocturnal melatonin suppression has impeded the development of circadian-effective lighting recommendations and light-treatment methods. The study's primary goal was to measure nocturnal melatonin suppression for a wide range of light levels (40 to 1000 lux), 2 white light spectra (2700 K and 6500 K), and an extended range of nighttime light exposure durations (0.5 to 3.0 h). The study's second purpose was to examine whether differences existed between adolescents' and adults' circadian sensitivity to these lighting characteristics. The third purpose was to provide an estimate of the absolute threshold for the impact of light on acute melatonin suppression. Eighteen adolescents (age range, 13 to 18 years) and 23 adults (age range, 24 to 55 years) participated in the study. Results showed significant main effects of light level, spectrum, and exposure duration on melatonin suppression. Moreover, the data also showed that the relative suppressing effect of light on melatonin diminishes with increasing exposure duration for both age groups and both spectra. The present results do not corroborate our hypothesis that adolescents exhibit greater circadian sensitivity to short-wavelength radiation compared with adults. As for threshold, it takes longer to observe significant melatonin suppression at lower CS levels than at higher CS levels. Dose-response curves (amount and duration) for both white-light spectra and both age groups can guide lighting recommendations when considering circadian-effective light in applications such as offices, schools, residences, and healthcare facilities.

Keywords: age-related change; and spectrum; circadian phase; circadian phototransduction; circadian rhythms; exposure duration; light level; nocturnal melatonin suppression; white light.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / radiation effects*
  • Middle Aged
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Melatonin