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You’ve probably heard about melatonin as being a hormone that helps control our sleep and wake cycle. But melatonin isn’t just something that those suffering from jet lag may be focussed on. New research is now showing that this humble hormone has an important role to play in a woman’s fertility! In this blog, I’ll tell you what you need to know about melatonin and fertility and the things you can do to keep your melatonin levels healthy and improve your chances of conceiving.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin has been called dubbed the ‘sleep hormone’ because it helps us doze off to sleep and get the rest our body needs. It’s made in the brain in a small, pea-sized gland called the pineal gland. Melatonin plays a vital part in our twenty four-hour circadian rhythm, which helps your body know when it’s time to sleep and wake up.
Melatonin levels are normally highest at night, and begin to rise once the sun sets. The levels fall again in the morning when the sun comes up. Now, this normal cycle is all well-and-good if we lived in the natural environment, but our modern lives can throw out this delicate balance. Many people aren’t outdoors during the day to get enough sun, but worse still, we expose ourselves to too much light at night-time both from indoor lights and also the phones and laptops our eyes may be glued to before bed.
Melatonin and fertility
But melatonin has more roles to play than just regulating our sleep-wake cycle. This hormone can influence a wide variety of cellular processes that affect cancer risk, heart disease, and even fertility.
A recent review of studies looking at melatonin and female reproduction came to the striking conclusion that healthy melatonin levels are necessary for optimal fertility. You see, melatonin plays its part by protecting our eggs from free radical damage. “What are free radicals?” I hear you ask. Well, they are molecules that are highly reactive with other cellular structures because they contain unpaired electrons. These unpaired electrons can cause damage to parts of cells such as proteins, DNA, and cell membranes by stealing their electrons through a process called oxidation, so basically free radicals are bad guys that harm our eggs.
Melatonin, is like a little policeman, finding the bad guys and preventing them from doing harm. Technically, it acts as an antioxidant in the ovaries, removing free radicals and preventing cellular damage especially during ovulation, when eggs are most vulnerable. The end result: optimal amounts of melatonin create healthier and more fertile eggs. So, this means that shift workers could be even at greater risk from fertility problems. The disrupted sleep cycle and too much exposure to night-time lights disrupt the circadian rhythm, leading to menstrual cycle irregularities which can impact on their fertility.
The research into melatonin and fertility goes even deeper. With new research suggesting that melatonin plays a crucial role in foetal development as well. Low levels of melatonin production during pregnancy can harm your baby, potentially triggering problems with his biological clock and contributing to health issues down the line.
But the great news about melatonin comes from some exciting new research. It seems that women with poor egg quality, having IVF treatments, who are treated with melatonin supplements are more likely to fall pregnant. Researchers found that women taking melatonin before their IVF cycle had 50% of their eggs successfully fertilised, compared to less than 23% of the eggs of the control group. Following embryo transfer, 19% of the women taking the melatonin supplements became pregnant compared to just over 10% of the women who didn’t take it.
And supporting these findings, a systematic review from 2014 found that melatonin supplementation during IVF increased the pregnancy rate by 21%!
So let’s get down to the practical bits and discuss what you can do to keep your melatonin levels in balance…. The key message is that the more light you’re exposed to at night, when your body is trying to wind down to get you to sleep, the more melatonin production is impaired. That’s bad news for your fertility.
What you’re striving for is a stable light-dark environment. For a start, you want to aim for at least 8 hours of darkness at night. Darkness is needed for a regular biological clock and to produce a good dose of melatonin. Sleep is great, but it’s the darkness that’s needed for the brain to produce melatonin.
Next, you want a fairly regular schedule so that your light-dark cycle is regular from one day to the next. At night, minimise light close to bedtime. This means turning off the TV and taking your eyes off your phone, tablet and laptop. Many of these devices now have automatic night-time blue light dimming, so make use of this function. It is the shorter wavelengths in blue light that is what causes the body to produce less melatonin because the body is more sensitive to this type of light. And, fourthly, keep your bedroom as dark as possible and with no outside light coming in through the windows.
What about supplements….
It appears that taking low doses of melatonin is safe for a healthy person if taken for a short time period of no more than three months. Melatonin is commonly taken at night before bed for a variety of sleep disorders and also jet lag. If you are thinking of taking melatonin to boost your fertility you should certainly discuss the issue with your doctor or fertility specialist first.
Now, let me ask you ….what are YOU going to do to optimise your melatonin levels? Let me know in the chat box!
Okey dokey, so I’ve given you a lot of information today. So, let’s summarise:
- Melatonin is called our sleep hormone for good reason as high levels at night time helps us fall off to sleep
- But, Melatonin does a lot more than help us sleep with new researching finding it is vital for healthy eggs and foetal development
- In controlled trials, women on IVF who are given melatonin supplements have much higher chances of successful fertilisation and implantation
- And, finally, if you want to keep your melatonin levels optimal, then you need to start practising good bedtime routines tonight, and every night right up until your little one arrives, when you can expect to get very little sleep at all!
Now, I’m sure that you’ll have loads of questions, so feel free to post them in the comments below.
And, remember, melatonin alone isn’t going to help you to conceive….you need a nutritious diet, so I’d love you to download my free fertility meal plan. Just go to www.melaniemcgrice.com/fertility.