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J Biol Rhythms. 2005 Apr;20(2):168-77.

Intrinsic period and light intensity determine the phase relationship between melatonin and sleep in humans.

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Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.
Harvard Med Sch, Boston, MA


The internal circadian clock and sleep-wake homeostasis regulate the timing of human brain function, physiology, and behavior so that wakefulness and its associated functions are optimal during the solar day and that sleep and its related functions are optimal at night. The maintenance of a normal phase relationship between the internal circadian clock, sleep-wake homeostasis, and the light-dark cycle is crucial for optimal neurobehavioral and physiological function. Here, the authors show that the phase relationship between these factors-the phase angle of entrainment (psi)-is strongly determined by the intrinsic period (tau) of the master circadian clock and the strength of the circadian synchronizer. Melatonin was used as a marker of internal biological time, and circadian period was estimated during a forced desynchrony protocol. The authors observed relationships between the phase angle of entrainment and intrinsic period after exposure to scheduled habitual wakefulness-sleep light-dark cycle conditions inside and outside of the laboratory. Individuals with shorter circadian periods initiated sleep and awakened at a later biological time than did individuals with longer circadian periods. The authors also observed that light exposure history influenced the phase angle of entrainment such that phase angle was shorter following exposure to a moderate bright light (approximately 450 lux)-dark/wakefulness-sleep schedule for 5 days than exposure to the equivalent of an indoor daytime light (approximately 150 lux)-dark/wakefulness-sleep schedule for 2 days. These findings demonstrate that neurobiological and environmental factors interact to regulate the phase angle of entrainment in humans. This finding has important implications for understanding physiological organization by the brain's master circadian clock and may have implications for understanding mechanisms underlying circadian sleep disorders.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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