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Circadian rhythms, sleep, and the menstrual cycle.

Research paper by Fiona C FC Baker, Helen S HS Driver

Indexed on: 27 Mar '07Published on: 27 Mar '07Published in: Sleep Medicine



Abstract

Women with ovulatory menstrual cycles have a circadian rhythm superimposed on the menstrual-associated rhythm; in turn, menstrual events affect the circadian rhythm. In this paper, we review circadian rhythms in temperature, selected hormone profiles, and sleep-wake behavior in healthy women at different phases of the menstrual cycle. The effects on menstrual cycle rhythmicity of disrupted circadian rhythms, for example, with shiftwork and altered circadian rhythms in women with menstrual-related mood disturbances, are discussed. Compared to the follicular phase, in the post-ovulation luteal phase, body temperature is elevated, but the amplitude of the temperature rhythm is reduced. Evidence indicates that the amplitude of other rhythms, such as melatonin and cortisol, may also be blunted in the luteal phase. Subjective sleep quality is lowest around menses, but the timing and composition of sleep remains relatively stable across the menstrual cycle in healthy women, apart from an increase in spindle frequency activity and a minor decrease in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep during the luteal phase. Disruption of circadian rhythms is associated with disturbances in menstrual function. Female shiftworkers compared to non-shiftworkers are more likely to report menstrual irregularity and longer menstrual cycles. There also is accumulating evidence that circadian disruption increases the risk of breast cancer in women, possibly due to altered light exposure and reduced melatonin secretion. Further investigations into the biological consequences of circadian disruption in women will offer insight into some menstrual-associated disorders, including mood changes, as well as reproductive function and possible links with breast cancer.