Complete absence of evening melatonin increase in tetraplegics

Rebecca J.H.M. Verheggen, Helen Jones, Jean Nyakayiru, Andrew Thompson, Jan T. Groothuis, Greg Atkinson, Maria T.E. Hopman, Dick H.J. Thijssen

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15 Citations (Scopus)


Individuals with a spinal cord injury (SCI), especially with tetraplegia, experience poor sleep quality, and this may be related to impaired control of circadian rhythmicity. Here, we examined the evening onset of melatonin secretion, an important hormone for the initiation of sleep, in people with a complete cervical (tetraplegia) and thoracic (paraplegia) SCI, and age- and sex-matched able-bodied control participants. Multiple samples of salivary melatonin were obtained during the evening hours and analyzed by ELISA methods in 10 control partcipants, 9 individuals with paraplegia, and 6 individuals with tetraplegia. Sleep quality was assessed using questionnaires. Interactive effects of group and time were found for melatonin levels (P=0.022). In the control and paraplegia groups, the mean melatonin level increased significantly from 2.59 ± 1.04 and 4.28 ± 3.28 pg/ml at 7 PM to 10.62 ± 4.59 and 13.10 ± 7.39 pg/ml at 11 PM, respectively (P<0.001). In the tetraplegia group, melatonin level was 5.25 ± 3.72 at 7 PM but only 2.41 ± 1.25 pg/ml at 11 PM (P>0.05). Decreased sleep quality was more prevalent in individuals with tetraplegia (83%) and paraplegia (75%) compared with controls (20%; P=0.02). Unlike in the control and paraplegia groups, the evening increase in melatonin concentration was completely absent in the tetraplegia group. This provides biological insight into sleep regulation in humans and provides better understanding of the poor sleep quality in people with tetraplegia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3059-3064
Number of pages6
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012


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