I’ve long been fascinated by how symptoms provide insight into underlying hormonal disturbances. A great example is the emerging research on sleep. Your body has a circadian rhythm or a daily cycle of when specific physiologic events are to occur. This process organizes everything from growth, digestion and repair to consolidation of memories and production of chemicals to regulate your mood. It also coordinates the growth and development of sperm and eggs. The hormone that regulates your circadian rhythm is called melatonin.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by an area of the brain called the pineal gland. Blood levels typically between midnight and about 4 am. Maybe more interesting is the fact that exposing your eyes to light can abruptly interrupt the production and release of this hormone that helps you sleep through the second half of the night. That’s also the time of night when various physiologic functions peak including testosterone production and ovulation.
This is just one of the many facts linking your sleep pattern with your fertility.
Most fertility clinics may not inquire about what role your circadian rhythm may be playing your chance of conception, a recent publication in Fertility & Sterility summarized over 200 studies on how melatonin may be influencing your reproductive function. Here are just a few key points:
- Melatonin is a potent anti-oxidant. Studies show that the process of ovulation produces free radicals which can damage an egg. This hormone is concentrated in the fluid that surrounds mature eggs and likely serves to protect them from harm.
- Melatonin influences the production of estradiol, progesterone and testosterone differently during varying stages of the menstrual cycle.
- Melatonin regulates the maturation capacity of an egg. One study demonstrated that women with a history of failed IVF cycles experienced improved fertilization rates after melatonin supplementation.
- Melatonin modulates the immune system. It is estimated that 30% of women with premature ovarian failure have an autoimmune component. Additionally, many women with recurrent early pregnancy loss also have an immunologic disorder. These situations offer potential intervention to improve outcome through normalization of the circadian rhythm.
- Various fertility problems may be influenced by a melatonin deficiency. For instance, women with PCOS tend to have lower than normal levels of melatonin in their follicular fluid and melatonin may influence endometriosis growth.
The best way to optimize melatonin production is to establish and maintain a normal sleep pattern. In some situations melatonin supplements or the use of long acting melatonin-like medications may be of benefit. If you haven’t considered the role that a good night sleep can play in your successful conception check out this sleep assessment tool.