Sleep and Fertility: Is There A Correlation?

When you’re trying to conceive, the recommendations for boosting your fertility can seem endless: Take this vitamin, cut back on caffeine, exercise more, exercise less, etc. But advice on how much sleep is needed to increase your chance of getting pregnant is rarely mentioned.

That’s mostly due to the fact that the connection is still vague, but as more and more research is done on the subject, it’s an area that’s worth discussing with your doctor if you’re planning to have a baby. Discover what you need to know, below.

Don’t Sleep In.

Women undergoing IVF who scored seven to eight hours of sleep a night were 25 percent more likely to become pregnant than those who snoozed for nine hours or more. The extra sleep is possibly linked to other behaviors that can impact fertility, such as going to bed late or skipping breakfast.

But Don’t Skimp on Sleep, Either.

On the flip side, too little sleep can also hurt your chances of becoming pregnant. Women having IVF who racked up fewer than seven hours of sleep nightly were 15 percent less likely to conceive than those who hit the sweet spot of seven to eight hours. The abbreviated time in dreamland could spike levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, limiting your ability to reproduce.

Turn Off Your Phone.

Exposure to the blue light that tech gadgets emit doesn’t only interfere with your sleep-wake cycle, it may also make it harder to have a baby. That’s because the blue light suppresses melatonin, a sleep hormone that also plays a role in protecting eggs, especially during ovulation. Power down electronics at least an hour before bedtime and keep them (and other light sources) out of the bedroom.

Don’t Focus on Sleep Alone.

Other lifestyle changes—such as avoiding excess alcohol, quitting smoking, and paying attention to your ovulation cycle and having sex on key days—are still more likely to impact fertility than tweaking your sleep habits.

Sleep and fertility are natural components of human life, but both are easily disrupted. For the 6.1 million American women who struggle with infertility, it’s possible that sleep and sleep dysfunction may play a role in their ability to conceive.

New research is diving deeper into the complicated relationship between sleep and fertility for both men and women, offering insight into the delicate complexity of the reproductive cycle.

The Importance of Sleep

To understand why sleep has the power to impact fertility, it’s critical to also understand how important sleep is to our physical and mental health.

Sleep consists of three distinct stages: light sleep, deep sleep, and REM sleep. All three are crucial for our well-being, and anything which impacts either the total amount of time spent asleep or the duration of stages can impact us in a wide range of ways.

This is because we sleep for many reasons, not just one. Scientists are still studying the various benefits of sleep, including:

  • Internal “housekeeping”, including rest, recovery, cell growth, and other functions
  • Managing memory and preparing space for new learning
  • Conserving energy
  • Allowing for protection from predators, a holdover from when the night was a dangerous time

Sleep is also closely tied to circadian rhythms, which function as an internal clock. Your circadian rhythm dictates when you feel tired, sleep, and wake, but it also governs all the other patterns of your body. As this includes the production and fluctuation of hormones, circadian rhythms are particularly important when considering fertility.

CDC initiatives suggest seven hours of sleep a night for adults over the age of 21, but a third of Americans fall short of this goal. Signs indicate that poor sleep becomes more prevalent as we age, as a study of Americans over the age of 50 found that only 32% reported getting enough sleep.

Aside from their impact on fertility, sleep deprivation and sleep dysfunction are associated with a long list of ailments. These include daytime exhaustion, mood disorders (such as anxiety and depression), weight gain, a higher risk of disease (including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer), memory problems, and higher levels of stress hormones and inflammation markers.

Given the importance of sleep and the impact poor sleep can have on your mind and body, it’s no surprise that sleep also plays a role in fertility.

How Sleep Impacts Fertility in Women

Fertility, like sleep, is a complicated process. The finely-tuned mechanisms of the reproductive cycle are still being studied, as is sleep, so the places where they interact are still in the early stages of research and understanding. However, initial studies are clear on the link between sleep and fertility.

The Menstrual Cycle & Hormones

Sleep can have an effect on hormones, but the menstrual cycle itself can cause fluctuations to circadian rhythms in addition to having an impact on overall sleep quality. While menstruating women without pain report sleep disturbances, these complaints worsen in severity for women suffering from premenstrual syndrome or menstrual pain. Pregnancy can also cause similar sleep health problems.

In the other direction, poor sleep, sleep deprivation, and circadian rhythm disruptions can all impact hormone levels in ways which are not yet fully understood.

The majority of research on the subject has focused on the impact of circadian rhythm disruptions. Shift workers, for instance, have long been known to have prolonged menstrual cycles and more incidence of abnormally heavy flow and severe menstrual pain.

Melatonin, a hormone associated with the sleep-wake cycle, is thought to be a potential cause of these effects. Shift workers are known to have abnormal melatonin levels when compared to the general population. In addition to sleep, melatonin also influences the immune system, controls reproductive hormones, and may play a role in egg fertilization and embryo viability.

Other Hormones

Of course, melatonin is not the only hormone involved in sleep and fertility. Research on the interaction between estrogen and circadian rhythms has been limited but may also prove to be important. “Clock genes” are related to the expression of circadian rhythms as well as successful reproduction, and estrogen is known to modify the effect of these genes in the reproductive system. One sign that estrogen and circadian rhythms are further linked is that polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a significant cause of infertility in women, is associated with both disordered sleep and abnormal estrogen levels.

Two other hormones which are being studied in the context of sleep and fertility are prolactin and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).

Like melatonin, prolactin is secreted from the pituitary gland. While its name references its role in prompting lactation, prolactin also affects fertility and fluctuations are associated with PCOS and lack of normal ovulation. As with many other hormones, prolactin is released at higher levels during sleep and production is suppressed by sleep dysfunction and poor sleep quality.

FSH, on the other hand, has a less obvious connection to sleep. However, levels of FSH were 20% lower in women who slept for less than seven hours a day when compared to women getting enough sleep, even when factors like age and weight were accounted for. Both abnormally high and low levels of FSH are known to have profound reproductive effects.

Finally, the mental impact of sleep can’t be discounted when considering the relationship between sleep and fertility. Sleep dysfunction is associated with an increased risk of mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. While the impact of mental health on the reproductive cycle is also an area in need of further study, some research has shown that anxiety and distress can lead to lower rates of pregnancy.

Related Posts

Make sure you grab a copy of my FREE guide 5 Steps To Increase Your Fertile Cervical Mucus & my FREE Self-Care Mini Course. You can access either one by clicking on the title. These are packed full of information that you can begin implementing today to put yourself one step closer to getting pregnant, naturally.

If you’re looking for a group of like-minded women with which to share your fertility wellness journey, be sure to check out my Whole Body Fertility & Wellness Facebook group today!

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