Effects of menstrual cycle phase and oral contraceptives on alertness, cognitive performance, and circadian rhythms during sleep deprivation

Behav Brain Res. 1999 Sep;103(2):185-94. doi: 10.1016/s0166-4328(99)00042-x.


The influence of menstrual cycle phase and oral contraceptive use on neurobehavioral function and circadian rhythms were studied in healthy young women (n = 25) using a modified constant routine procedure during 24 h of sleep deprivation. Alertness and performance worsened across sleep deprivation and also varied with circadian phase. Entrained circadian rhythms of melatonin and body temperature were evident in women regardless of menstrual phase or oral contraceptive use. No significant difference in melatonin levels, duration, or phase was observed between women in the luteal and follicular phases, whereas oral contraceptives appeared to increase melatonin levels. Temperature levels were higher in the luteal phase and in oral contraceptive users compared to women in the follicular phase. Alertness on the maintenance of wakefulness test and some tests of cognitive performance were poorest for women in the follicular phase especially near the circadian trough of body temperature. These observations suggest that hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle and the use of oral contraceptives contribute to changes in nighttime waking neurobehavioral function and temperature level whereas these factors do not appear to affect circadian phase.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / drug effects
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Circadian Rhythm / drug effects
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Melatonin / blood
  • Menstrual Cycle / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Sleep Deprivation*


  • Contraceptives, Oral, Hormonal
  • Melatonin