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Melatonin Can Help Blind Person Stay in Sync With Others

October 12, 2000

The biological clock of a totally blind person who is unable to see sunlight can go out of sync with the rest of the world, keeping the person awake when the rest of the world is sleeping. Oregon doctors report in today's New England Journal of Medicine that melatonin tablets--sold in health food stores--can reset that internal clock to a normal 24-hour cycle.

The normal sleep-wake cycle in both blind and sighted people is longer than 24 hours. Sunlight resets the clock daily, but those who cannot perceive sunlight have frequent bouts of insomnia, producing "a lifetime problem for blind persons," said Josephine Arendt of the University of Surrey in an accompanying editorial. "Melatonin may prove to be a safe and effective treatment" for the estimated 100,000 blind people in the United States who regularly suffer from sleep problems, said Dr. Robert L. Sack and his colleagues at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

--Compiled by Times medical writer Thomas H. Maugh II

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