How Lack of Sleep May Affect Your Fertility
Sleep and fertility. Have you ever thought about how they relate to one another?
Sleep plays a vital role in all our lives, affecting the quality of life, overall health, and, importantly, fertility. Getting a good night’s sleep helps refresh and restore your brain and organ systems and regulate important hormones in your body – including fertility-related hormones.
Lack of Sleep Can Affect Fertility-Related Hormones
Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep.
If you’re one of them, and you’re also concerned about your fertility, here’s information that may surprise you:
- In both men and women, the same part of the brain that regulates sleep-wake hormones (such as melatonin and cortisol) also triggers a daily release of reproductive hormones.
- The hormones that trigger ovulation in women and the sperm-maturation process in men may be tied into the body’s sleep-wake patterns. For example, if you’re a woman, long-term lack of sleep may directly affect the release of luteinizing hormone, or LH — the hormone that triggers ovulation as part of regulating your menstrual cycle. The resulting menstrual irregularity may mean it takes longer for you to conceive.
Could this hormonal connection between your sleep and fertility mean there’s also a connection between lack of sleep and, perhaps, not being as fertile as you could or would like to be? Researchers haven’t yet found evidence that this is the case, but they’re working on it.
What Else Connects Sleep and Fertility?
Long-term lack of sleep can disrupt more than your hormonal balance. Research suggests that it can also affect your fertility in indirect ways, including:
Making you moody and irritable. Over time, this could disrupt your relationship with your spouse or sexual partner and lead to fewer opportunities for pregnancy to occur.
Increasing your risk of diseases and conditions that can affect your fertility. These include diabetes, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) disease and obesity.
You’re probably familiar with at least some ways to get more and better sleep. If so, try them! And remember, if your sleep and fertility problems continue, it may be time to talk to your doctor to find out if an underlying medical condition may be a factor.
Because sleep and daylight are integral to our biological clocks, it’s important to get sufficient amounts of both. Here are some guidelines.
- Honor your personal sleep needs. Although the optimal amount of sleep is about 8 hours on average, requirements vary from person to person and somewhat from season to season. “You are probably skimping on the amount of sleep you need if you have signs of drowsiness or poor concentration during the day,” says Stahmann.
- Get outdoors.Shoot for an hour or more out in sunlight each day, even if you have to split it up with a 10-minute walk in the morning, lunch on the patio, and a quick Frisbee toss with your dog in the late afternoon. If time or weather constraints force you to stay indoors, Dr. Kripke recommends the use of a light box, a portable unit that allows you to get light even while indoors and is often used for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). You can purchase a light box through any of the numerous online stores that offer them for sale.
- Don’t work odd hours if you can help it. “A growing body of evidence suggests that late night and overnight work schedules are associated with menstrual irregularities, reproductive disturbances, and risk of adverse pregnancy,” says Phyllis Zee, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Sleep Disorders Center and associate professor of neurology at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago. Ideally, men and women should opt out of shiftwork while they’re trying to conceive, and women should also try to avoid it while they’re pregnant. If you must do shiftwork, be vigilant about getting sufficient rest and recuperation in your hours away from the job, Dr. Zee advises.
- Keep your sleep and wake time consistent. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. The luxury of “sleeping in” comes at a high price, warns Dr. Kripke. It may actually make you groggier, plus it’s harder to go to bed on Sunday night and get up on Monday.
- Still your mind. Before bed, avoid paying bills, reading books or watching movies with troubling storylines, and any other activities that could keep your mind racing rather than relax into a peaceful sleep. Instead, make a habit out of nightly calming rituals like spiritual reflection and partner massage.
- Adjust your lighting. Turning down dimmer switches and using low-wattage bulbs in the evening are helpful for someone who has trouble falling asleep. On the other hand, if you develop sleep deficiency because you awaken too early, brighter light in the evening may shift your body clock so that you stay asleep longer, says Dr. Kripke.
- Keep a space cushion between stimulants and sleep. Both caffeine and alcohol are discouraged when you’re trying to get pregnant, but if you do occasionally indulge, limit your use to more than 5 hours before bedtime. “Even though it may feel as though alcohol helps you fall asleep, it actually disturbs your sleep,” notes circadian rhythm researcher Elizabeth Klerman, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
- Stay away from melatonin supplements. “Although it’s tempting to self-treat insomnia or jet lag with melatonin supplements, it’s not a good idea for any man or woman who is trying to conceive,” says Dr. Kripke. “There is a risk of suppressed fertility and even gonadal atrophy in people who take melatonin supplements.”
- Be honest about sleep disorders. The National Sleep Foundation offers symptom lists and self-evaluations to help you identify sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome. Log on to the Web site www.sleepfoundation.org for more information. If you suspect that you have a sleep disorder, see your doctor — but make sure she knows that you’re trying to conceive so you don’t receive contraindicating medications.