Chances are you’ve experienced the downsides of lack of sleep a few times in your life. Sleep is crucial to keep our bodies running optimally and contributes to our wellness in a big way. The exact mechanism of sleep’s restorative nature and why we need to do it for an extended period of time each day is unknown. We just know how much we need and what can happen when we do not get enough or get too much.
Some people think the body shuts down during sleep and this is where we get the benefits, but that’s not the case. During sleep, your body and mind are doing important work to maintain, restore, and strengthen themselves.
So it stands to reason that sleep can affect pretty much all aspects of your health, and that includes fertility.
How Does Lack of Sleep Affect Fertility?
Beyond its impact on general wellness (and the fact that the healthier you are, the better your chances of conceiving are), there is not a lot of proven knowledge about the direct effect of sleep on fertility. However, there have been studies that have found many factors that indicate a possible correlation between the amount of sleep someone gets and their fertility. For detailed information on the effect of sleep on fertility, you can check out this in-depth article available through the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health.
The most significant factor that sleep can affect in relation to fertility is hormone production. If you don’t get enough sleep, your body will produce less of certain hormones and too much of others. The same part of the brain that is responsible for regulating sleep-wake hormones like melatonin and cortisol also regulates reproductive hormones. Sleep deprivation will signal the body to produce more stress hormones, which is bad for overall health and can throw off levels of estrogen, testosterone, and other reproductive hormones.
There is also a possibility that your circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake pattern, is linked to reproductive hormones that trigger ovulation in women. It can also interfere with the sperm maturation process. For women, the result is menstrual irregularity that can make it difficult to predict ovulation and prolong the process of trying to get pregnant. In men, sperm that is not as healthy is not as likely to fertilize eggs, and if they do, it can lead to unviable embryos or complications.
As we already know, lack of sleep is detrimental to your overall health and wellness in ways that might not seem to be directly connected to fertility, but it can all take a toll. For instance, sleep deprivation increases your risk of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. These conditions all make getting pregnant more difficult.
Lastly, not getting enough sleep is detrimental to your emotional health and mood. The hormonal imbalance can decrease your libido for sure, but being moody isn’t helpful to the situation. If you’re irritable and tired for an extended time, you may eventually run into problems with your partner or affect your sexual intimacy. Unless you’re using IUI or IVF, a lack of sexual intimacy is a huge barrier to conception.
How Much Sleep Should I Get?
As with most things, the key to sleep is balance. You want to get in the sweet spot between too little and too much. Channel your inner Goldilocks and try and get an amount that’s “just right.” But that leads to the question: how much sleep is just right?
We mostly talk about sleep loss or deprivation when discussing sleep issues, but sleeping too much can be a problem too. Like with insomnia and lack of sleep, sleeping too long can also be a sign of another health issue.
So, how much sleep is optimal? As the National Sleep Foundation explains, experts agree that the average person should aim for at least seven hours and no more than nine hours a night. So, the tried and true eight hours of sleep wisdom still holds. Research has found that women getting less than seven hours of sleep are 15% less likely to get pregnant than women who got seven to eight hours. On the other hand, women undergoing a treatment like IVF who got seven to eight hours of sleep were 25% more likely to get pregnant than women who got nine or more.
This guideline works for most generally healthy people but doesn’t consider other conditions that may affect your sleep needs. If you have a sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea or narcolepsy), then you should talk to the doctor that treats you for it as well as your fertility specialist about how this might affect your fertility.
What Can I Do to Get More Sleep?
If there were a magic formula to get the right amount of sleep, we’d let everyone know. But it’s not so simple. One in three people in the U.S. doesn’t get enough sleep. If you have insomnia or another sleep disorder, you should work with your healthcare team to address it before getting pregnant. But there are some tips that may help you to get more sleep.
- Get sleep between 10 pm and 7 am: This is, of course, dependent on your schedule, but if possible, try to get to bed by 10 p.m. You’ll feel better if you can be awake to get sunlight and can sleep when it’s dark. If that’s not possible, you can try things like blackout curtains and sunrise/light alarms to simulate those conditions at off-times.
- Lay off caffeine by a certain time: If you’re trying to get pregnant, you should already be limiting your caffeine intake. But in terms of improving sleep habits, you should stop caffeine consumption at least four to six hours before going to sleep.
- Keep sleep patterns regular: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day–even on the weekends. You might be reluctant to give up sleeping in on Sunday morning, but if you get into a routine where you’re getting enough sleep each night, you won’t miss it after a while.
- Relax your mind: You might be used to finishing up some last-minute tasks, reading, or watching a true-crime documentary before bed. But it’s best to skip things that might stay on your mind as you go to bed. If you’re set on watching TV before bed, stick to something light. But make sure the TV and any other devices are off before you actually try to go to sleep as electronics with screens or light can interfere with sleep. And before you shut your eyes, try doing some sort of relaxation technique like meditation or breathing exercises.
- Spend time outdoors: Spending an hour in sunlight can help with your ability to fall asleep and improve its quality. If you need to, break it up into increments that fit into your schedule: have lunch outside, take walks, and play with pets outdoors.
- Avoid supplements like melatonin: Even things that are touted as “natural” like melatonin can interfere with your body’s processes. It can suppress fertility and, in some cases, can even cause atrophy in the gonads. If you feel you need a supplement or medication to help with sleep, discuss it with a doctor to get their recommendations.
At Carolinas Fertility Institute, we want to help you in your fertility journey in every way possible. That includes offering guidance and recommendations for general wellness and lifestyle habits that can improve your chances of conceiving. And because optimal health and wellness are often the building blocks of any treatment plan for health issues, improving things like sleep will give any fertility treatments you’re undergoing the best chance of working. To make an appointment to talk to our expert team about any concerns you might have and what options we can help with, call 336-448-9100 for our offices in the Triad or 844-686-2233 for our Charlotte office. Or you can request an appointment online.