Everyone knows how it feels to lose sleep. On any particular night, you stay up too late or doze off too early and suddenly your whole schedule is off; you’re either too tired to wake up when you should or too rested to sleep through the night.
Although it may not seem like a big deal, losing sleep can seriously disrupt your circadian rhythm. You’ve probably heard the term before, but, first, let us answer a few questions you may have:
What is a circadian rhythm?
It is a cycle of coordinated physical, mental and behavioral changes in the body. Most living organisms have circadian rhythms, including animals, plants, and many bacteria.
What controls my circadian rhythm?
Natural factors within your body such as genes, biological clocks, nerve responses, and hormones. The hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm is called melatonin. Your circadian rhythm is also influenced by signals from the environment, mainly light and darkness.
How does it affect me?
Your circadian rhythm can impact your sleep cycle, hormone levels, body temperature, growth, digestion, reproductive function, memory retention, etc.
With a little knowledge of circadian rhythms, we can begin to make the connection between your sleep cycle and your fertility. In 2009, a publication in Fertility & Sterility summed up over 200 studies on how the hormone melatonin may influence reproductive function.
In the human body, melatonin levels peak when it is darkest outside (typically between midnight and 4 am). Intriguingly, this is also the time of night when several bodily functions climax, including testosterone production and ovulation. If your eyes are exposed to light during this time period, it can abruptly interrupt the production and release of melatonin that helps your sleep through the night, along with other bodily processes. Thus, you can see how an irregular or inconsistent sleep schedule could impair your reproductive function.
Melatonin deficiency may influence a variety of fertility problems. One study showed that women with a history of failed IVF cycles experienced improved fertilization rates when taking a melatonin supplement. Also, women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) tend to have lower than normal levels of melatonin in the fluid surrounding their eggs, indicating that melatonin may influence their condition.
Furthermore, studies show that the process of ovulation produces free radicals (unstable atoms that can damage your eggs). Melatonin is a powerful anti-oxidant, which means it gets rid of free radicals. Fortunately, there are high levels of melatonin in the fluid that surrounds your eggs. This likely serves to protect them from harm caused by free radicals.