Everyone has trouble sleeping occasionally. Other than feeling tired the next day, most people don’t worry about consequences from a sleepless night. However, not getting enough sleep on a consistent basis has been linked to serious health problems, including an increased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, heart attack and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Does sleep deprivation affect your fertility? What can you do to prevent it?
Sleep and Your Reproductive Health
Getting adequate sleep is essential to your health and well-being. Not getting enough sleep over time has been shown to contribute to obesity and hypertension, which also may lead to diabetes and heart disease. There has not been a lot of research on the effect of sleep deprivation on fertility, but some have theorized that it affects fertility by disrupting the circadian system and hormone production.
The hormones that trigger ovulation in women and sperm production in men may be affected by disruption in circadian rhythms, or the sleep-wake cycle. The resulting menstrual irregularity in women may make it more difficult to conceive. Most of the research that has found a negative effect on fertility has to do with shift workers, especially women who work nights. An analysis of 15 studies of over 100,000 women found that shift workers had increased risk of disrupted menstrual periods and of early pregnancy loss.
Other research focused on the link between sleep deprivation and obesity. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is one of the most common causes of infertility in women, is associated with obesity and, in some studies, with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Sleep dysregulation also activates the same center of your brain that deals with stress, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA axis), which dampens reproductive activity when you are under stress.
Long-term lack of sleep can also disrupt your relationship with your partner by making you irritable and too tired for sex, limiting opportunity to get pregnant.
Getting the Sleep You Need
Good sleep habits can help you get the sleep you need and help prevent potential disruption of your fertility when you are trying to conceive.
- Get some sunlight every day, an hour if possible. This helps set your sleep-wake cycle.
- Keep a regular bedtime and wake-up time, the same on the weekend as on weekdays. Your body likes a schedule!
- Limit blue screen time at night. Put down the phone, the laptop or the tablet at least one hour before bedtime, and don’t watch TV close to your bedtime.
- Practice mood management before bedtime. Avoid activities that could make your mind race or make you worry.
- Limit use of caffeine and alcohol, especially if you have trouble getting to sleep.
- You may find sleep apps or mindfulness meditations useful to help you relax and get to sleep.
- Avoid night shift work when you are trying to conceive, as night shifts have been shown to disrupt fertility.
- Make other good health habits that promote good sleep, such as light to moderate exercise during the day and not eating heavy meals before bedtime.