Melatonin marks circadian phase position and resets the endogenous circadian pacemaker in humans

Ciba Found Symp. 1995:183:303-17; discussion 317-21. doi: 10.1002/9780470514597.ch15.


Measuring the dim light melatonin onset (DLMO) is a useful and practical way to assess circadian phase position in humans. As a marker for the phase and period of the endogenous circadian pacemaker, the DLMO has been shown to advance with exposure to bright light in the morning and to delay with exposure to bright light in the evening. This 'phase response curve' (PRC) to light has been applied in the treatment of winter depression, jet lag and shift work, as well as circadian phase sleep disorders. Exogenous melatonin has phase-shifting effects described by a PRC that is about 12 h out of phase with the PRC to light. That is, melatonin administration in the morning causes phase delays and in the afternoon causes phase advances. All of the circadian phase disorders that have been successfully treated with appropriately timed exposure to bright light can be treated with appropriately scheduled melatonin administration. Melatonin administration is more convenient and therefore may be the preferred treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Circadian Rhythm / drug effects
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / pharmacology
  • Melatonin / physiology*


  • Biomarkers
  • Melatonin