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Melatonin phase shifts human circadian rhythms in a placebo-controlled simulated night-work study.

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Biological Rhythms Research Laboratory, Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois 60612, USA.


There has been scant evidence for a phase-shifting effect of melatonin in shift-work or jet-lag protocols. This study tested whether melatonin can facilitate phase shifts in a simulated night-work protocol. Subjects (n = 32) slept in the afternoons/evenings before night work (a 7-h advance of the sleep schedule). They took melatonin (0.5 mg or 3.0 mg) or placebo before the first four of eight afternoon/evening sleep episodes at a time when melatonin has been shown to phase advance the circadian clock. Melatonin produced larger phase advances than placebo in the circadian rhythms of melatonin and temperature. Average phase advances (+/-SD) of the dim light melatonin onset were 1.7 +/- 1.2 h (placebo), 3.0 +/- 1.1 h (0.5 mg), and 3.9 +/- 0.5 h (3.0 mg). A measure of circadian adaptation, shifting the temperature minimum enough to occur within afternoon/evening sleep, showed that only subjects given melatonin achieved this goal (73% with 3.0 mg, 56% with 0.5 mg, and 0% with placebo). Melatonin could be used to promote adaptation to night work and jet travel.

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