Melatonin suppression does not automatically alter sleepiness, vigilance, sensory processing, or sleep

Sleep. 2022 Nov 9;45(11):zsac199. doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsac199.


Presleep exposure to short-wavelength light suppresses melatonin and decreases sleepiness with activating effects extending to sleep. This has mainly been attributed to melanopic effects, but mechanistic insights are missing. Thus, we investigated whether two light conditions only differing in the melanopic effects (123 vs. 59 lx melanopic EDI) differentially affect sleep besides melatonin. Additionally, we studied whether the light differentially modulates sensory processing during wakefulness and sleep. Twenty-nine healthy volunteers (18-30 years, 15 women) were exposed to two metameric light conditions (high- vs. low-melanopic, ≈60 photopic lx) for 1 h ending 50 min prior to habitual bed time. This was followed by an 8-h sleep opportunity with polysomnography. Objective sleep measurements were complemented by self-report. Salivary melatonin, subjective sleepiness, and behavioral vigilance were sampled at regular intervals. Sensory processing was evaluated during light exposure and sleep on the basis of neural responses related to violations of expectations in an oddball paradigm. We observed suppression of melatonin by ≈14% in the high- compared to the low-melanopic condition. However, conditions did not differentially affect sleep, sleep quality, sleepiness, or vigilance. A neural mismatch response was evident during all sleep stages, but not differentially modulated by light. Suppression of melatonin by light targeting the melanopic system does not automatically translate to acutely altered levels of vigilance or sleepiness or to changes in sleep, sleep quality, or basic sensory processing. Given contradicting earlier findings and the retinal anatomy, this may suggest that an interaction between melanopsin and cone-rod signals needs to be considered. Clinical Trial Registry: German Clinical Trials Register, DRKS00023602,

Keywords: artificial light; circadian timing system; melanopsin; melatonin; metameric light; sensory processing; sleep.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Melatonin* / pharmacology
  • Perception
  • Sleep / physiology
  • Sleepiness
  • Wakefulness* / physiology


  • Melatonin

Associated data

  • DRKS/DRKS00023602