Homeostatic versus circadian effects of melatonin on core body temperature in humans

J Biol Rhythms. 1997 Dec;12(6):509-17. doi: 10.1177/074873049701200604.


Evidence obtained in animals has suggested a link of the pineal gland and its hormone melatonin with the regulation of core body temperature (CBT). Depending on the species considered, melatonin intervenes in generating seasonal rhythms of daily torpor and hibernation, in heat stress tolerance, and in setting the CBT set point. In humans, the circadian rhythms of melatonin is strictly associated with that of CBT, the nocturnal decline of CBT being inversely related to the rise of melatonin. Whereas there is inconsistent evidence for the suggestion that the decline of CBT may prompt the release of melatonin, conversely, stringent data indicate that melatonin decreases CBT. Administration of melatonin during the day, when it is not normally secreted, decreases CBT by about 0.3 to 0.4 degree C, and suppression of melatonin at night enhances CBT by about the same magnitude. Accordingly, the nocturnal rise of melatonin contributes to the circadian amplitude of CBT. The mechanisms through which melatonin decreases CBT are unclear. It is known that melatonin enhances heat loss, but a reduction of heat production cannot be excluded. Besides actions on peripheral vessels aimed to favor heat loss, it is likely that the effect of melatonin to reduce CBT is exerted mainly in the hypothalamus, where thermoregulatory centers are located. Recent observations have shown that the acute thermoregulatory effects induced by melatonin and bright light are independent of their circadian phase-shifting effects. The effect of melatonin ultimately brings a saving of energy and is reduced in at least two physiological situations: aging and the luteal menstrual phase. In both conditions, melatonin does not exert its CBT-lowering effects. Whereas in older women this effect may represent an age-related alteration, in the luteal phase this modification may represent a mechanism of keeping CBT higher at night to promote a better embryo implantation and survival.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Female
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / physiology*


  • Melatonin