Plasma melatonin circadian rhythms during the menstrual cycle and after light therapy in premenstrual dysphoric disorder and normal control subjects

J Biol Rhythms. 1997 Feb;12(1):47-64. doi: 10.1177/074873049701200107.


The aim of this study was to replicate and extend previous work in which the authors observed lower, shorter, and advanced nocturnal melatonin secretion patterns in premenstrually depressed patients compared to those in healthy control women. The authors also sought to test the hypothesis that the therapeutic effect of bright light in patients was associated with corrective effects on the phase, duration, and amplitude of melatonin rhythms. In 21 subjects with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and 11 normal control (NC) subjects, the authors measured the circadian profile of melatonin during follicular and luteal menstrual cycle phases and after 1 week of light therapy administered daily, in a randomized crossover design. During three separate luteal phases, the treatments were either (1) bright (> 2,500 lux) white morning (AM; 06:30 to 08:30 h), (2) bright white evening (PM; 19:00 to 21:00 h), or (3) dim (< 10 lux) red evening light (RED). In PMDD subjects, during the luteal phase compared to the follicular menstrual cycle phase, melatonin onset time was delayed, duration was compressed, and area under the curve, amplitude, and mean levels were decreased. In NC subjects, melatonin rhythms did not change significantly during the menstrual cycle. After AM light in PMDD subjects, onset and offset times were advanced and both duration and midpoint concentration were decreased as compared to RED light. After PM light in PMDD subjects, onset and offset times were delayed, midpoint concentration was increased, and duration was decreased as compared to RED light. By contrast, after light therapy in NC subjects, duration did not change; onset, offset, and midpoint concentration changed as they did in PMDD subjects. When the magnitude of advance and delay phase shifts in onset versus offset time with AM, PM, or RED light were compared, the authors found that in PMDD subjects light shifted offset time more than onset time and that AM light had a greater effect on shifting melatonin offset time (measured the following night in RED light), whereas PM light had a greater effect in shifting melatonin onset time. These findings replicate the authors' previous observation that nocturnal melatonin concentrations are decreased in women with PMDD and suggest specific effects of light therapy on melatonin circadian rhythms that are associated with mood changes in patient versus control groups. The differential changes in onset and offset times during the menstrual cycle, and in response to AM and PM bright light compared with RED light, support a two-oscillator (complex) model of melatonin regulation in humans.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Estrogens / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology*
  • Menstrual Cycle / psychology
  • Phototherapy*
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / blood
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Premenstrual Syndrome / therapy*
  • Progesterone / blood
  • Radioimmunoassay


  • Estrogens
  • Progesterone
  • Melatonin