While everyone knows that fertility and the ability to conceive depends on your lifestyle, exactly which lifestyle factors are important and which aren’t haven’t been fully studied. A recent study out of the journal Fertility and Sterility in 2019 took a look at the effects of sleep quality and patterns and shift work on the ability of women to get pregnant.
Researchers looked at nearly 7,000 women in a cohort between the ages of 21 and 45 years who were trying to get pregnant. They were surveyed as to their average sleep duration and the difficulties they were having with regard to sleep. The presence of shift work patterns, which often involves sleeping during the day or sleeping at odd hours because of work obligations, was also looked at. They then followed these women for one year or until they got pregnant.
Women were divided into those who slept less than six hours a day, up to women who slept longer than nine hours a day on average. They found that getting less sleep was closely connected to fertility problems compared to those who got a lot of sleep. Women who had more difficulty sleeping also had a harder time getting pregnant. The chances of getting pregnant were about 64% in those who had trouble sleeping more than half of the time, while 76% of women got pregnant over the course of a year if they didn’t have sleep difficulties.
Exactly what was meant by “trouble sleeping” wasn’t made clear in the article. Some things that can impact sleep quality are snoring on the part of your spouse, snoring yourself, or insomnia, which is a different problem altogether. Insomnia is more connected to stress, which can impact fertility by itself.
Interestingly, there was no link between doing shift work and sleeping odd hours and the risk of infertility. Women who felt they were under greater degrees of stress and those who had more symptoms of depression were even more likely to have trouble getting pregnant.
Sleep Quality and Fertility Hormones
A lack of sleep in men and women is regulated by the melatonin and cortisol levels in the body. Cortisol is increased with stress; stress alone can impact sleep quality. A lack of sleep can affect your luteinizing hormone or LH surge, which is the major trigger for ovulation in women. This can make it more difficult to get pregnant.
Lack of adequate sleep can cause you to feel irritable and moody, which could affect your romantic relationship. Heart disease, diabetes, and obesity can get worse with lack of sleep. These diseases can also affect your ability to get pregnant.
Sleep and Pregnancy
So, if you are able to get pregnant, is there any risk to the pregnancy once you do get pregnant? Apparently yes, there is an increased risk to you and your baby. Sleep deprivation causes an increase in what are called “pro-inflammatory cytokines”, which promote inflammation in the body. These increases are linked to a higher risk of preterm birth and postpartum depression.
Other risks to your pregnancy include an increased risk of low birth weight, gestational delivery, and stillbirth. No one knows if these too are related to an increase in pro-inflammatory cytokines. Exactly how much sleep you should get isn’t known either but most sleep specialists recommend you get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per day.
What You Can Do
There are some things you can do to improve your sleep quality. Here are some of them:
- Know how much sleep you need. Every person is different as to how much sleep is enough for them. This may be less than 8 hours or more than 8 hours. Keep track of how tired you are when you get varying amounts of sleep.
- Spend some time outdoors. Try to get outside for a short walk or just spend some time in the sunshine. People who get outdoors, especially if they exercise, will have better sleep quality.
- Try to work the same shift all the time. While this study didn’t show a relationship between shift work and loss of fertility, other studies have shown a correlation. It makes sense to have a regular sleeping pattern in order to have quality sleep.
- Try to slow your mind down before sleep. Try not to read anything heavy, watch action movies, or pay bills before bedtime. Let your mind relax before sleeping so you can get to sleep in a timely fashion.
- Practice good sleep hygiene. Sleep in the dark, don’t use phones or tablets before sleep, sleep in a calm environment, and avoid stimulants like nicotine and caffeine before bedtime. While exercise helps sleep, exercising right before bedtime is too stimulating and will interfere with sleep. Avoid this.
- Try herbal tea before bed. A warm or perhaps room temp herbal infusion or tea before bed such as Chamomile, Skullcap, Passionflower, Lavender or Kava are some good choices or choose one of many popular nighttime blends.
We know that disrupted sleep can disrupt hormonal balance in men and women. Disrupted hormonal balance leads to a slew of unwanted symptoms as you may know. As if that weren’t bad enough, being too tired all the time makes it hard to function throughout the day, let alone to even want to have sex. Simply put: it’s important for you to work to find ways to help yourself sleep better if you haven’t been sleeping well!
- Willis, S.K., Hatch, E.E., Wesselink, A.K., Rothman, K.J., Mikkels, E.M., and Wise, L.A. Female sleep patterns, shift work, and fecundability in a North American preconception cohort study. Fertil Steril. 2019; 111: 1201–1210. Retrieved from https://www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(19)30240-7/fulltext
- Cornforth, T. (Updated September 15, 2019). How Lack of Sleep May Affect Your Fertility. https://www.verywellfamily.com/make-the-most-of-sleep-and-sunlight-3522556
- Rowan, K. (May 30, 2013). Lack of Sleep May Harm Men’s Sperm. https://www.livescience.com/36947-sleep-disturbances-sperm-count.html
- Chang, J. J., Pien, G. W., Duntley, S. P., & Macones, G. A. (2010). Sleep deprivation during pregnancy and maternal and fetal outcomes: is there a relationship?. Sleep medicine reviews, 14(2), 107–114. doi:10.1016/j.smrv.2009.05.001. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824023/