Daytime melatonin and light independently affect human alertness and body temperature

J Pineal Res. 2019 Aug;67(1):e12583. doi: 10.1111/jpi.12583. Epub 2019 May 9.


Light significantly improves alertness during the night (Cajochen, Sleep Med Rev, 11, 2007 and 453; Ruger et al., AJP Regul Integr Comp Physiol, 290, 2005 and R1413), but results are less conclusive at daytime (Lok et al., J Biol Rhythms, 33, 2018 and 589). Melatonin and core body temperature levels at those times of day may contribute to differences in alerting effects of light. In this experiment, the combined effect of daytime exogenous melatonin administration and light intensity on alertness, body temperature, and skin temperature was studied. The goal was to assess whether (a) alerting effects of light are melatonin dependent, (b) soporific effects of melatonin are mediated via the thermoregulatory system, and (c) light can improve alertness after melatonin-induced sleepiness during daytime. 10 subjects (5 females, 5 males) received melatonin (5 mg) in dim (10 lux) and, on a separate occasion, in bright polychromatic white light (2000 lux). In addition, they received placebo both under dim and bright light conditions. Subjects participated in all four conditions in a balanced order, yielding a balanced within-subject design, lasting from noon to 04:00 pm. Alertness and performance were assessed half hourly, while body temperature and skin temperature were measured continuously. Saliva samples to detect melatonin concentrations were collected half hourly. Melatonin administration increased melatonin concentrations in all subjects. Subjective sleepiness and distal skin temperature increased after melatonin ingestion. Bright light exposure after melatonin administration did not change subjective alertness scores, but body temperature and proximal skin temperature increased, while distal skin temperature decreased. Light exposure did not significantly affect these parameters in the placebo condition. These results indicate that (a) exogenous melatonin administration during daytime increases subjective sleepiness, confirming a role for melatonin in sleepiness regulation, (b) bright light exposure after melatonin ingestion significantly affected thermoregulatory parameters without altering subjective sleepiness, therefore temperature changes seem nonessential for melatonin-induced sleepiness, (c) subjective sleepiness was increased by melatonin ingestion, but bright light administration was not able to improve melatonin-induced sleepiness feelings nor performance. Other (physiological) factors may therefore contribute to differences in alerting effects of light during daytime and nighttime.

Keywords: alertness; body temperature regulation; daytime; human; light; melatonin; placebo.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Temperature / drug effects*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / drug effects*
  • Circadian Rhythm / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / administration & dosage*
  • Melatonin / metabolism


  • Melatonin