How Important is Sleep in Fertility?
In today’s hectic world, it can hard to prioritize a good night’s sleep. Every day there is a new report urging people to get between seven and nine hours of sleep to maintain physical and cognitive health. While lack of sleep may not affect all aspects of our daily life, women who are seeking to get pregnant should do their best to get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown that in addition to being linked to cardiovascular problems, obesity, depression, and diabetes, the duration of our sleep may also impact fertility.
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. Specifically 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 (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.
Though the published data on the correlation between sleep and reproductive function is minimal, some studies have supported a connection. At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, a Korean team presented a study following 650 women undergoing IVF treatment.1 The women were divided into three groups: those who slept less than six hours per night (short sleepers); those who slept between seven and eight hours per night (moderate sleepers); and those who slept nine or more hours per night (long sleepers). The highest IVF success rate was seen in those who were moderate sleepers. Long sleepers had significantly lower rates of conceiving and it appeared that short sleepers may have as well. The researchers theorized that those who slept long or short had diminished success because by sleeping outside of normal parameters, the women were disrupting the body’s circadian rhythm and potentially impacting hormone production.
Another study, conducted by a research team in the United Kingdom, took a look at reproductive research gathered over a forty-year period to determine whether there was a correlation between fertility problems and women working outside of traditional hours.2 They found a direct link, with higher rates of miscarriage, fertility issues and menstrual irregularities in women who worked outside of the typical 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. time frame.
Some fertility experts caution against putting too much emphasis on these studies, particularly because those who are short or long sleepers may do so as a result of other health problems that may also have an impact on reproductive health. Still, there are a number of advantages to getting the proper amount of sleep and being well rested, making it worth pursuing under any circumstance. Sleep is increasingly being seen as the third pillar of good health, alongside nutrition and exercise. Taking care of yourself and making your health a priority is one of the most effective ways to improve your overall sense of wellbeing, as well as your chances of reproductive success.
Here are some guidelines for a good night’s sleep:
- 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.
- Pay attention to your posture. Lie down only when sleeping. Your body responds to postural cues. By only lying down when sleeping your body will associate that position with sleeping and with time automatically begin the process when you get into bed.
- 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.
- Don't work odd hours if you can help it: Since shift work can affect fertility, avoid it if possible.
- Keep your sleep and wake time consistent: Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends.
- 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.
- Keep a space cushion between stimulants and sleep: Consume caffeine and alcohol in moderation when you're trying to get pregnant and limit your use to more than five hours before bedtime.
- Park I et al. (2013). The more, the better? The impact of sleep on IVF outcomes. Fertil Steril 100(3): S466.
- Stocker LJ et al (2013). Do working schedules influence early reproductive outcomes – a meta-analysis. Hum Reprod 28(S1): i80-82.