NIA Research on Melatonin and the Circadian Clock Aimed at Improving Sleep

Public Health Reports (1974-), Vol. 107, No. 6 (Nov. - Dec., 1992), p. 740


The National Institute on Aging (NIA) has awarded researchers at Oregon Health Science University nearly $1 million to begin studying the role of the natural hormone melatonin in controlling sleep and wakefulness. Their findings could benefit millions of older Americans, shift workers, and others who often report troubled sleep.

NIA estimates that more than half the nation's 29 million people older than  age 65 experience disrupted sleep. In addition, millions of other Americans don't get enough sleep because of work schedules. For older people, inadequate sleep can worsen illness and cause frustration, confusion, and depression. For shift workers, it also can reduce productivity, lower cognitive performance, and in crease the likelihood of accidents.

According to Dr. Andrew Monjan of NIA's Neuroscience and Neuropsychology of Aging Program, the Oregon sleep study has two goals: to understand the influence of melatonin on the parts of the brain that generate circadian or sleep-alertness rhythms, and to understand the importance of aging on this system.

"We hope the findings will show us how to reset the circadian clock and ultimately, make it possible for millions of Americans to get that elusive 'good night's sleep' without having to resort to drugs," he said.

Basic scientists will conduct studies in animals to find out how melatonin works on the brain structures that control sleep and wakefulness. At the same time, clinical scientists will study humans to see if administering melatonin at certain times can correct the sleep deficits and the changes in the circadian clock that are associated with aging. The studies are expected to take 5 years.

Dr. Robert L. Sack, Professor of Psychiatry at Oregon Health Sciences University and Director of Research at the Pacific Northwest Sleep Wake Disorders Program, Good Samaritan Hospital, is the project's principal investigator.

NIA is one of 13 institutes at the National Institutes of Health, a component of the Public Health Service.


Source: Association of Schools of Public Health

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