Female Hormones, Reproductive Dysfunction and Shift Work:

Whenever we hear the term ‘shift work’ – we often associate it with things like sleep deprivation, tiredness, lethargy and no social life!  But as a female, have you ever wondered if this continual disruption to your sleep cycle may be having an impact on your hormones?

Because the answer to that question is a resounding “yes”.

Whilst there are many things which can impact female reproduction, some of which include stress, age, weight and environmental factors, alterations or disruptions to our natural biological rhythms (which happens when working 24/7),  can also lead to significant disruptions in female reproductive function.

Disturbances in our natural daily rhythms, which often occurs in those who work shift work, is associated with:

  • increased menstrual cycle irregularity
  • increased risk of miscarriage
  • difficulty in conceiving
  • increased risk of endometriosis
  • increased risk of dysmenorrhea
  • and a higher risk of breast cancer.

Quite simply, a lack of sleep affects the secretion of our hormones.

In fact studies have shown women who slept for less than 8 hours secreted 20% less Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) – a hormone which helps to control the menstrual cycle and in the production of eggs by the ovaries, compared to those who slept for longer durations.

In addition, women working rotating shifts, evening shifts, and night shift, also reported having increased menstrual pain, along with changes in the length of their menstrual cycles –  both increases and decreases.

Whilst this may not be the most positive of news, I believe it’s important that female workers are aware of the potential disturbances to their normal biological rhythms, as a result of working 24/7.  It’s certainly not to say that it will affect every single person in exactly the same way, as plenty of women have fallen pregnant and had healthy babies whilst working 24/7.

It’s more just to create an awareness that whilst the mechanisms behind infertility and reproductive dysfunction can be quite complex – it’s also very multifactorial.

And if you happen to work shift work, and are also having trouble conceiving, then it may be worth speaking to your health care practitioner (or fertility specialist), for advice on rebalancing those hormones as one way of enhancing your fertility.

Reference:  Mahoney, M 2010, ‘Shift work, jet lag and female reproduction’, International Journal of Endocrinology’.


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