Dose-response relationships for resetting of human circadian clock by light

Nature. 1996 Feb 8;379(6565):540-2. doi: 10.1038/379540a0.


Since the first report in unicells, studies across diverse species have demonstrated that light is a powerful synchronizer which resets, in an intensity-dependent manner, endogenous circadian pacemakers. Although it is recognized that bright light (approximately 7,000 to 13,000 lux) is an effective circadian synchronizer in humans, it is widely believed that the human circadian pacemaker is insensitive to ordinary indoor illumination (approximately 50-300 lux). It has been proposed that the relationship between the resetting effect of light and its intensity follows a compressive nonlinear function, such that exposure to lower illuminances still exerts a robust effect. We therefore undertook a series of experiments which support this hypothesis and report here that light of even relatively low intensity (approximately 180 lux) significantly phase-shifts the human circadian pacemaker. Our results clearly demonstrate that humans are much more sensitive to light than initially suspected and support the conclusion that they are not qualitatively different from other mammals in their mechanism of circadian entrainment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Temperature
  • Circadian Rhythm / radiation effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Male