Original article| Volume 54, ISSUE 12, P1437-1443, December 15, 2003

Abnormal nocturnal melatonin secretion and disordered sleep in abstinent alcoholics

  • Eva Kühlwein
    Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunonology, University of California, Los Angeles, Neuropsychiatric Institute, Los Angeles, California, USA (EK, MRI)
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  • Richard L Hauger
    Department of Psychiatry (RLH), University of California, San Diego, San Diego, California, USA
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  • Michael R Irwin
    Address reprint requests to Michael Irwin, M.D., University of California, Los Angeles, Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, 300 UCLA Medical Plaza, Suite 3-109, Los Angeles, CA 90095-7057, USA.
    Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunonology, University of California, Los Angeles, Neuropsychiatric Institute, Los Angeles, California, USA (EK, MRI)
    Search for articles by this author



      Alcoholic patients show prominent disturbance of sleep as measured by electroencephalogram, with difficulties in the onset and maintenance of sleep. Given the role of melatonin in the regulation of the sleep–wake cycle, this study examined the relationship between nocturnal expression of melatonin and sleep in alcoholics as compared with control subjects.


      Alcoholic patients (n = 11) and comparison control subjects (n = 10) underwent all-night polysomnography and serial blood sampling every 30 min from 10:00 pm to 6:30 am for measurement of circulating levels of melatonin and cortisol.


      Coupled with prolonged sleep latency, alcoholics showed lower levels of melatonin during the early part of the night and a delay in the onset of the nocturnal plateau or peak value of melatonin as compared with control subjects. The nocturnal delay of melatonin correlated with prolonged sleep latency. Circulating levels of cortisol were lower during the early part of the night and higher in the late part of night in the alcoholics as compared with the control subjects.


      A delay in the nocturnal rise of melatonin may contribute to disordered sleep in chronic alcoholics, with implications for the use of melatonin in the treatment of insomnia in recovering alcoholics.


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