Light Treatment for Sleep Disorders: Consensus Report: II. Basic Properties of Circadian Physiology and Sleep Regulation

Derk Jan Dijk, Ziad Boulos, Charmane I. Eastman, Alfred J. Lewy, Scott S. Campbell, Michael Terman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


The rationale for the treatment of sleep disorders by scheduled exposure to bright light in seasonal affective disorder, jet lag, shift work, delayed sleep phase syndrome, and the elderly is, in part, based on a conceptual framework developed by nonclinical circadian rhythm researchers working with humans and other species. Some of the behavioral and physiological data that contributed to these concepts are reviewed, and some pitfalls related to their application to bright light treatment of sleep disorders are discussed. In humans and other mammals the daily light-dark (LD) cycle is a major synchronizer responsible for entrainment of circadian rhythms to the 24-h day, and phase response curves (PRCs) to light have been obtained. In humans, phase delays can be induced by light exposure scheduled before the minimum of the endogenous circadian rhythm of core body temperature (CBT), whereas phase advances are induced when light exposure is scheduled after the minimum of CBT. Since in healthy young subjects the minimum of CBT is located approximately 1 to 2 h before the habitual time of awakening, the most sensitive phase of the PRC to light coincides with sleep, and the timing of the monophasic sleep-wake cycle itself is a major determinant of light input to the pacemaker. The effects of light are mediated by the retinohypothalamic tract, and excitatory amino acids play a key role in the transduction of light information to the suprachiasmatic nuclei. LD cycles have direct “masking” effects on many variables, including sleep, which complicates the assessment of endogenous circadian phase and the interpretation of the effects of light treatment on sleep disorders. In some rodents motor activity has been shown to affect circadian phase, but in humans the evidence for such a feedback of activity on the pacemaker is still preliminary. The endogenous circadian pacemaker is a major determinant of sleep propensity and sleep structure; these, however, are also strongly influenced by the prior history of sleep and wakefulness. In healthy young subjects, light exposure schedules that do not curtail sleep but induce moderate shifts of endogenous circadian phase have been shown to influence the timing of sleep and wakefulness without markedly affecting sleep structure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-125
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of biological rhythms
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • EEG analysis
  • REM sleep
  • circadian rhythms
  • entrainment
  • light
  • nonphotic stimuli
  • phase response curve
  • sleep
  • sleep homeostasis
  • slow-wave sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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