Inhibition of melatonin secretion onset by low levels of illumination

J Sleep Res. 1996 Jun;5(2):77-82. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2869.1996.00011.x.


Melatonin is a hormone released during darkness under the control of the hypothalamic circadian pacemaker. It has been shown that melatonin is suppressed by light as a function of intensity, with low levels of illumination producing small effects and more intense light greater, but not complete inhibition. The studies which lead to these conclusions administered light subsequent to the secretion pattern being well established. Light as low as 250 lux administered during the normal onset of secretion can reduce melatonin to below detectable levels. The onset of melatonin secretion was delayed for at least an hour during 250 lux exposure and did not rise until termination of light exposure (two hours after control melatonin onset) with higher illumination (500, 1000 and 2500 lux). This tentatively indicates that duration of the inhibition is intensity dependent. It is suggested that the experimental paradigm used in the present study may be a more realistic representation of the effect of normal light exposure (both natural and artificial) on the circadian system, and that findings may be pertinent to the aetiology of certain sleep onset insomnias, which would include delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS) and adaptation to shift work.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Humans
  • Light*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / metabolism*
  • Pineal Gland / metabolism


  • Melatonin