Circadian uses of melatonin in humans

Alfred Lewy, Jonathan Emens, Angela Jackman, Krista Yuhas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

112 Scopus citations


Melatonin in humans can be an independent or dependent variable. Measurement of endogenous melatonin levels under dim-light conditions, particularly the dim-light melatonin onset (DLMO), has received increasing attention among researchers, and for clinicians it may soon become a convenient test that can be done at home using saliva collections in the evening, without interfering with sleep. Melatonin, even at low physiological doses, can cause advances (shifts to an earlier time) or delays (shifts to a later time) depending on when it is administered on its phase-response curve (in most sighted people, these times are approximately in the p.m. and in the a.m., respectively). Although both bright light and melatonin can be used separately or together in the treatment of circadian phase disorders in sighted people - such as advanced and delayed sleep phase syndromes, jet lag, shift-work maladaptation, and winter depression (seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) - melatonin is the treatment of choice in totally blind people. These people provide a unique opportunity to study the human circadian system without the overwhelming effects of ocularly mediated light, thus permitting us to establish that all blind free-runners (BFRs) studied under high resolution appear to have phase-advancing and phase-delaying responses to as yet unidentified zeitgebers (time givers) that are usually too weak to result in entrainment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-412
Number of pages10
JournalChronobiology International
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2006


  • Blind people
  • Circadian rhythms
  • Melatonin
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
  • Winter depression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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