Exposure to light at night results in disruption of endogenous circadian rhythmicity and/or suppression of pineal melatonin, which can consequently lead to acute or chronic adverse health problems. In the present study, we investigated whether exposure to very dim light or very bright light for a short duration influences melatonin suppression, subjective sleepiness, and performance during exposure to constant moderately bright light. Twenty-four healthy male university students were divided into two experimental groups: Half of them (mean age: 20.0 ± 0.9 years) participated in an experiment for short-duration (10 min) light conditions of medium intensity light (430 lx, medium breaks) vs. very dim light (' 1 lx, dim breaks) and the other half (mean age: 21.3 ± 2.5 years) participated in an experiment for short-duration light conditions of medium intensity light (430 lx, medium breaks) vs. very bright light (4700 lx, bright breaks). Each simulated night shift consisting of 5 sets (each including 50-minute night work and 10-minute break) was performed from 01:00 to 06:00 h. The subjects were exposed to medium intensity light (550 lx) during the night work. Each 10-minute break was conducted every hour from 02:00 to 06:00 h. Salivary melatonin concentrations were measured, subjective sleepiness was assessed, the psychomotor vigilance task was performed at hourly intervals from 21:00 h until the end of the experiment. Compared to melatonin suppression between 04:00 and 06:00 h in the condition of medium breaks, the condition of dim breaks significantly promoted melatonin suppression and the condition of bright breaks significantly diminished melatonin suppression. However, there was no remarkable effect of either dim breaks or bright breaks on subjective sleepiness and performance of the psychomotor vigilance task. Our findings suggest that periodic exposure to light for short durations during exposure to a constant light environment affects the sensitivity of pineal melatonin to constant light depending on the difference between light intensities in the two light conditions (i.e., short light exposure vs. constant light exposure). Also, our findings indicate that exposure to light of various intensities at night could be a factor influencing the light-induced melatonin suppression in real night work settings.
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