Stressors as subtle as night work or shift work can lead to irregular menstrual cycles, and changes in reproductive hormone profiles can adversely affect bone health. This study was conducted to determine if stresses associated with the disruption of regular work schedule can induce alterations in ovarian function which, in turn, are associated with transient bone resorption. Urine samples from 12 rotating shift workers from a textile mill in Anqing, China, were collected in 1996-1998 during pairs of sequential menstrual cycles, of which one was longer than the other (28.4 vs. 37.4 days). Longer cycles were characterized by a prolonged follicular phase. Work schedules during the luteal-follicular phase transition (LFPT) preceding each of the two cycles were evaluated. All but one of the shorter cycles were associated with regular, forward phase work shift progression during the preceding LFPT. In contrast, five longer cycles were preceded by a work shift interrupted either by an irregular shift or a number of "off days." Urinary follicle-stimulating hormone levels were reduced in the LFPT preceding longer cycles compared with those in the LFPT preceding shorter cycles. There was greater bone resorption in the follicular phase of longer cycles than in that of shorter cycles, as measured by urinary deoxypyridinoline. These data confirm reports that changes in work shift can lead to irregularity in menstrual cycle length. In addition, these data indicate that there may be an association between accelerated bone resorption in menstrual cycles and changes of regularity in work schedule during the preceding LFPT.