It is intriguing to me that improving circadian rhythm and sleep quality (by way of having a more natural flow of melatonin) can have such a variety of implications. Such as improving fertility and healthy menstrual cycles.
Here’s an excerpt from an article I enjoyed so much that it prompted me to read the author’s book, Garden of Fertility (I am part way through and have learned many interesting things).
In addition to incorporating Dr. Price’s principles into their diets, many women with irregular cycles have benefitted from addressing their night-lighting situation. Exposure to light at night can inhibit the pineal gland’s production of melatonin. The pineal gland directs your body’s rhythmic activities–including sleep, appetite, and the onset of puberty–through its production of melatonin. This hormone is primarily secreted at night, and it requires darkness to be produced. Bright light suppresses melatonin secretion.2
The hypothalamus gland, also located in the brain, is richly supplied with melatonin receptors. This gland regulates your body’s overall homeostasis, including things like blood pressure, emotions, temperature, and the endocrine (hormonal) system. Hormones secreted by the hypothalamus stimulate the anterior pituitary gland to secrete its hormones; and these, in turn, stimulate the thyroid gland, the adrenals and the ovaries to secrete yet other hormones. The ovaries (and the testicles) are also thought to contain melatonin receptors.3
You can see how melatonin production–and thereby sleeping in darkness or with light–can affect the whole body’s functioning, including the menstrual cycle: if the hypothalamus doesn’t receive sufficient melatonin, its ability to regulate the hormonal system will be impaired.
In the late 1960s, Louise Lacey, a writer, realized that being on the Pill took her body away from its natural rhythm. She went off it, and subsequently had very irregular cycles. She began reading about circadian rhythm and the sexual cycles of some primates, which suggested peaks of sexual activity relating to the lunar cycle. Lacey wondered if the moon’s cycles relate to human reproduction, and if so, how? She wondered whether artificial lights could interrupt the moon’s effect.
A newspaper article that reported the effects of night-light on the menstrual cycle then caught her attention. John Rock (the Ob/Gyn whose experiments with giving infertile women synthesized progesterone led to the creation of the Pill) and physicist E.M. Dewan found that women’s menstrual cycles became regular by sleeping in complete darkness Days 1-13, sleeping with a 100-watt bulb burning all night (under a lampshade in their bedroom) Days 14-17, and then returning to sleeping in complete dark.4
Thrilled by the possibility that she could return to healthy cycles, Lacey tried variations on the above experiment, beginning in 1971. She also began to chart her temperature. She found that sleeping in complete darkness except for three nights each cycle (when she slept with a 40-watt bulb under a lampshade or with a 75-watt bulb beaming a shaft of light from a nearby bathroom (essentially mimicking full-moon light) triggered ovulation. She called the technique Lunaception, and found that it could be used to direct her fertility–and that of her women friends. By avoiding intercourse on the days they slept with light, Louise Lacey and 27 of her friends developed regular, healthy menstrual cycles, and used Lunaception to avoid pregnancy effectively until menopause.5
Other clinical researchers have also found that sleeping in the absence of light (introducing it for a few days each cycle, or sleeping only in the absence of light) can help women in a variety of situations to strengthen their cycles.6,7
- Women with anovulatory cycles have become ovulatory.
- Women with unclear mucus readings develop discernible, healthy mucus build-up.
- Cycles that had been very short (26 days or less) or very long (35 days or more) become 27-31 days long.
- FSH levels become healthy.
- Spotting at various times during the cycle is significantly reduced.
- Progesterone levels are strengthened.
- Women with a history of miscarriage are able to sustain pregnancy.
- Premenopausal women develop a more discernible mucus pattern; and the intensity of their premenopausal symptoms, including hot flashes, sleeplessness, and mood changes are reduced.
So what does sleeping in total darkness mean? Fifteen minutes after turning out the lights, you can’t see objects in the room, including your own hands. Bedroom windows are covered with room-darkening blinds or curtains backed by light-blocking fabric. Cracks of light from under doors can be covered with a towel. Cracks around the edges of windows can be covered with aluminum foil. More specific directions for sleeping in the absence of light to strengthen menstrual cycles are available in my book.
Night-Lighting for the Nursing Mother
Sleeping without light can support lactional amennorhea — infertily while nursing. (Frequent nursing, including at night, is another.) During pregnancy and while breast feeding (until menses resume) it is best to sleep in the absence of light. If you need light in the middle of the night to nurse or use the bathroom, use as dim a light as possible. A red bulb (like those used in a photographer’s darkroom) purchased from a camera store, can be helpful. Once your cervical fluid indicates that you are ready to ovulate again, you may want to introduce light on some evenings. This specific technique and others for optimizing the nursing are described in Chapter 4 of The Garden of Fertilty.
I can personally say that having gone to sleeping in total darkness as the author recommends (with 3 nights of leaving our window undarkened at full moon), my cycles are currently exactly following the full moon ovulation and new moon menstruation pattern described. I’m not sure I am any more fertile , but I am more regular!
If in the future, we are blessed with another child, I plan to try to maintain lactional amennorhea using the ideas above. I was one of those women, even though nursing full-time, whose cycle returned only 2 and a half months post-partum. I was not sleeping in darkness then, but rather using a bright night-light. I won’t do that again unless using my dim amber night light from sleeplamps.com that doesn’t block the flow of melatonin!
I am sharing this post over at Rocks in my Dryer “Works for Me Wednesday.” More practical life-tip ideas available over there.