Exogenous Melatonin's Phase-Shifting Effects on the Endogenous Melatonin Profile in Sighted Humans: A Brief Review and Critique of the Literature

Alfred Lewy, Robert Sack

82 Scopus citations


Melatonin's phase-shifting effects in humans are thought by some investigators to be subtle, particularly in comparison to those achieved with appropriately timed bright light exposure. The initial study in sighted people was only intermittently successful in phase advancing the endogenous melatonin profile. The study of free-running blind people showed statistically significant phase advances the day after melatonin administration. When holding the light-dark cycle constant, consistent phase advances the day after melatonin administration in sighted people were first shown in the course of describing the melatonin phase response curve (PRC), which also provided the first evidence that melatonin could cause phase delays. More recent studies have replicated the PRC and shown that phase shifts can occur in response to physiological doses within 1 day. This article reviews this literature and attempts to reconcile some of the results from differing studies. If the timing of melatonin administration is optimized according to the melatonin PRC, then consistent phase advances and delays can be achieved. If a reliable and sensitive circadian phase marker (e.g., the highly resolved dim light melatonin onset) is used, then phase shifts can be demonstrated consistently - even a small shift the day after a single physiological dose. The present authors predict that in the near future, melatonin administration will become as useful as bright light exposure in the treatment of circadian phase disorders.



  • Circadian phase disorders
  • Dim light melatonin onset
  • Melatonin
  • Phase response curve

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

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