Background The central circadian pacemaker is a remarkably robust regulator of daily rhythmic variations of cardiovascular, endocrine, and neural physiology. Environmental lighting conditions are powerful modulators of circadian rhythms, but regulation of circadian rhythms by disease states is less clear. Here, we examine the effect of ischemic stroke on circadian rhythms in rats using high-resolution pineal microdialysis. Methods Rats were housed in LD 12:12 h conditions and monitored by pineal microdialysis to determine baseline melatonin timing profiles. After demonstration that the circadian expression of melatonin was at steady state, rats were subjected to experimental stroke using two-hour intralumenal filament occlusion of the middle cerebral artery. The animals were returned to their cages, and melatonin monitoring was resumed. The timing of onset, offset, and duration of melatonin secretion were calculated before and after stroke to determine changes in circadian rhythms of melatonin secretion. At the end of the monitoring period, brains were analyzed to determine infarct volume. Results Rats demonstrated immediate shifts in melatonin timing after stroke. We observed a broad range of perturbations in melatonin timing in subsequent days, with rats exhibiting onset/offset patterns which included: advance/advance, advance/delay, delay/advance, and delay/delay. Melatonin rhythms displayed prolonged instability several days after stroke, with a majority of rats showing a day-to-day alternation between advance and delay in melatonin onset and duration. Duration of melatonin secretion changed in response to stroke, and this change was strongly determined by the shift in melatonin onset time. There was no correlation between infarct size and the direction or amplitude of melatonin phase shifting. Conclusion This is the first demonstration that stroke induces immediate changes in the timing of pineal melatonin secretion, indicating that cortical and basal ganglia infarction impacts the timing of melatonin rhythms. The heterogeneous direction and amplitude of melatonin shifts suggests that the upstream regulation of hypothalamic timekeeping is likely anatomically diffuse and mechanistically complex. Finally, our study exemplifies the use of pineal microdialysis to evaluate the effect of neurological diseases on circadian function.