As a woman, you know your biological clock is ticking at this very moment. Every second that passes is a second of fertility lost, even more so once you reach your 30s. So, it's important to be aware of any road blocks that may affect conception once the time comes. According to a recent study published in the journal Cell Reports, exposure to high levels of artificial light at night can disrupt a woman’s natural body clock and, therefore, reproductive function.

"In modern society, females are exposed to many challenging perturbations in the environment that might play a role in fertility difficulties — we now live with high light levels in the evening, and our sleep cycle is disrupted by shift work or crossing time zones," said Gene Block, co-author of the study from the University of California Los Angeles, in a press release.

Exposure to artificial light from electronics has been known to disrupt sleep patterns. The artificial light emitted by these devices signals the brain to stay awake, manipulating it to equate light to daytime. This disrupts the natural circadian rhythm and leads the brain to produce less melatonin — the hormone that helps regulate sleep in the absence of light. The body clock gets out of sync and can impact your health, including a woman’s fertility.

Researchers at UCLA, Osaka University, and the Japan Science and Technology Agency know the menstrual cycle in female mammals is affected by the region of the brain, known as the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which controls the circadian rhythm. This compelled them to explore the relationship between the circadian clock and age-related changes in reproductive function. In other words, the researchers looked at how disrupting the body clock of female mice affected their fertility by placing them in intermittent shifts of light-dark cycles.

The findings revealed altering the body clock of mice had no effect on young mice, but pregnancy rates decreased in middle-aged mice. Within the cohort of lab mice, 71 percent of the older mice with normal body clocks got pregnant compared to about 10 percent of those whose circadian rhythm had been disrupted. The researchers concluded optimal circadian periods help protect female mice from the effects of age-related fertility.

Although the study was on female mice, the researchers believe the body clock may be key to a woman’s fertility. A 2014 study published in the journal Fertility and Sterility found exposure to artificial light at night can affect a woman’s reproductive health and even affect the health of her unborn child. Darkness played a big role in ensuring fertility and protecting the developing fetus. However, it’s not exactly the artificial light that interferes with a woman’s body, but the internal chemical reaction that prolonged exposure to light stunts.

These findings come as no surprise since exposure to darkness stimulates its release and the presence of melatonin in the system helps to produce drowsiness, becoming an aid in the sleep process. Melatonin can help protect eggs from damage in women who are trying to conceive, especially during ovulation. This hormone has strong antioxidant properties that protect the egg from free-radical damage. This is why women who are trying to get pregnant should maintain at least eight hours of dark period at night. If a woman’s light-dark cycle is irregular, the biological clock can become confused.

In women who are already pregnant, interference with melatonin levels can affect the health of the unborn child. If the fetus doesn’t get the right amount of melatonin from their mother, their biological clock can become confused. A lack of adequate melatonin levels has been linked to behavioral problems such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism in young children.

Women can avoid sources of artificial lighting to boost their chances of conception and protect the health of their unborn child if they’re pregnant.

"The ability to rescue reproductive function by altering the light schedule in a rodent model suggests that improvements in 'circadian hygiene' — for example, reductions in evening illumination, more regular meal timing, or avoiding rotating shiftwork or schedules that lead to irregular sleep — may all be important remedies for reproductive difficulty," Block said.

Women can ensure nighttime darkness by getting out into the light during the daytime and experimenting with decreasing artificial light the closer they get to bedtime. Moreover, the use of any electronic devices or television should be limited an hour before bed.

Dr. Kevin Barrett, a licensed psychotherapist in Chicago, Ill., previously told Medical Daily: “…[b]efore reaching for supplements or medications, try putting away our phones two hours before bed. However, if this is not possible, Barrett recommends using the app F.lux (iPhone) or Bluelight Filter (Android), which reduce the blue light output of our screens.”

Perhaps sex in the dark might not be such a bad idea after all — for your fertility’s sake.

Sources: Takasu NN, Nakamura TJ, Tokuda IT et al. Recovery from Age-Related Infertility under Environmental Light-Dark Cycles Adjusted to the Intrinsic Circadian Period. Cell Reports. 2015.

Reiter RJ, Tamura H, Tan DX et al. Melatonin and the circadian system: contributions to successful female reproduction. Fertility and Sterility. 2014.