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How a Woman’s Job Affects Her Ability to Conceive a Baby

Research shows that a woman’s work affects fertility and her ability to conceive a baby – especially for nurses, flight attendants, and shift workers.

Here’s what Fred W. Turek, biology professor and director of Northwestern’s Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology, says about female conception and working:

“Our results have important implications for the reproductive health of female shift workers, women with circadian rhythm sleep disorders and/or women with disturbed circadian rhythms for other reasons.”


Women who have disrupted sleep cycles because they work in jobs with irregular schedules may have a hard time conceiving a baby. This new research study fromNorthwesternUniversitystudy shows that the biological clock is not the only clock women trying to conceive should consider…her circadian clock needs attention, too.

If you’re trying to conceive a baby, read The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant. It’ll help you sort out what’s true about getting pregnant and what’s bunk, and will help you achieve inner peace while waiting for a positive pregnancy test. It’s a really good book – I used it as a reference for The Most Common Health Problems That Prevent Pregnancy.

And here’s a summary of the research study that describes how female fertility is affected by work…

How a Woman’s Job Affects Her Ability to Conceive a Baby

Research led by Northwestern circadian rhythm expert Fred W. Turek now draws a clear line between disrupted circadian rhythms and reproductive physiology (conceiving a baby). Turek and his colleagues are the first to show that if you disrupt the circadian clock environmentally in mice, with repeated changes in their light-dark cycles, there are problems with pregnancy outcomes.

If you keep changing your sleep schedule because of your job, lifestyle, or health issues, then you may have trouble conceiving a baby.

What circadian rhythms are – and how they affect female fertility

Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in your environment. Circadian rhythms are not the same thing as  your biological clock.

Your circadian rhythm is produced by your body, but it’s also influenced by the environment. Light is the main thing that influences circadian rhythms – it turns on or off genes that control your internal clock. Your circadian rhythm can change your sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature and other important bodily functions.

Circadian rhythms have been linked to various sleep disorders, such as insomnia and disrupted sleep-wake cycles. Abnormal circadian rhythms have also been associated with depression, bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder.

Source of this info: the Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet on the National Institute of General Medical Sciences website.


And now, research shows that circadian rhythms can affect female fertility.

Sleep cycles and conceiving babies

Women who can’t conceive need to think about their circadian rhythm, as well as their biological clock. Studies have shown female shift workers, such as nurses, and female flight attendants who work on long-distance east-west routes (i.e., those with constant jet lag) have fertility and menstrual issues. They are habitually out of sync with the external light cycle.

Since researchers hadn’t studied how circadian rhythms affect female fertility in the past, they weren’t prepared for these results.

“We were surprised at how dramatic the effect of manipulating the light-dark cycle was, especially in the phase-advanced group,” said Summa. “We expected a negative effect from the circadian clock disruption, but not this much.”

The researchers found evidence suggesting the severity of circadian disruption may be linked to the severity of pregnancy disruption: mice subjected to advances of the light-dark cycle had greater circadian clock disruption and lower reproductive success. This group’s pregnancy success rate was only 22 percent.

“If you disrupt your internal rhythms, there will be negative consequences – that is very clear,” said Summa.”Our results suggest people should consider their biological rhythms for optimal health.”

The repeated shifting of the light-dark cycle shifts the biological clock throughout the body. This environmental disturbance is more relevant to shift workers and those frequently flying across time zones than genetic disruption of the circadian clock, which also negatively influences reproductive function. If you’re a woman with a job that disrupts your sleep cycle, then you may have to change your lifestyle if you want to conceive a baby.

“We were surprised at how dramatic the effect of manipulating the light-dark cycle was, especially in the phase-advanced group,” Summa said. “We expected a negative effect from the circadian clock disruption, but not this much.”

The more your sleep cycle is disrupted, the harder it is to get and stay pregnant

These researchers also looked at a separate group of females in the phase-delay and phase-advance protocol to see how the animals responded to the repeated phase shifts. The researchers found the phase-advanced animals required one to two days longer, on average, to return to normal rhythms. This suggests the magnitude of circadian disruption is associated with the severity of pregnancy loss.

The next steps, the researchers say, are to identify the specific stage at which pregnancy is affected, and to understand exactly how circadian disruption affects female fertility. “We’ve made an interesting observation, but what’s causing the reduced fertility?” Summa said. “We would like to determine where exactly the phase shifts and internal rhythm disruptions are having an effect.”

If you don’t have a job that affects your sleep cycle, yet you haven’t conceived a baby after months or years of trying, read Unexplained Infertility – What to Do When You Can’t Conceive.

And if you have any thoughts on a woman’s job and fertility, please comment below!


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Source: Environmental Perturbation of the Circadian Clock Disrupts Pregnancy in the Mouse.

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2 thoughts on “How a Woman’s Job Affects Her Ability to Conceive a Baby”

  1. Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your comment! A difficult or demanding schedule is so hard on our health – man or woman. It’s not worth it in the long run. I’m always surprised at how hard doctors, nurses, and other health professionals work…yet they’re supposed to be role models.

    I hope your work schedule hasn’t affected your ability to conceive a baby!

  2. Hi Laurie

    just read your post! my physical therapist and I were just discussing this yesterday about what percentage of nurses and other female workers such as flight attendants suffer from infertility and or staying pregnant. At my nursing job, I would start at 7:15am, stand at least 12 hrs a day,have 5 min to eat lunch, come home, prepare dinner and be passed out by 9:30pm (from pure exhaustion) only to wake up again at 12 or 1am bc I took a 2-3 hr nap. I then of course could not sleep again until much later in the morning and would have a hard time waking up at 6am….I am really glad you wrote a post about this topic. I agree if when the time comes to have a baby, you will have to change your lifestyle. I did change mine. (still working on the baby dust!) Thanks Laurie!