Did you know the amount of sleep you get every night may affect your chances of conceiving? The quality of your sleep has an impact on your health, mood, hormones and fertility.
When you’re trying to get pregnant, bleary-eyed mothers and fathers will give you a deer in the headlights look as they encourage you to “savor every moment of sleep that you can, because it could be your last…”
What they don’t realize is that those precious moments of sleep they’re recommending are more important than we ever realized when it comes to your ability to become a parent in the first place.
Doctors and scientists note that sleep and sleep disturbances are increasingly recognized as determinants of women’s health and well-being, particularly in the context of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.
To increase their chances of becoming pregnant, women should be sleeping at least 8 hours per night. So, to what degree, and by what mechanisms, do sleep and/or its disturbances affect fertility?
Sleep does your body good
Without the advent of electricity and round-the-clock light, we humans were fairly solar powered creatures. We got up with the sun and went to bed within a short time after it set. Even candle and lamp light were dim enough (and expensive enough!) that we used it rather sparingly.
Our body’s hormone levels have responded to this established pattern of light and dark in a very complex way – relying on sleeping and waking cycles to establish hormonal balance.
The studies that were reviewed and commented on by the scientific journal, Fertility and Sterility, have elicited shocking information about light pollution, sleep deprivation and other sleep-related factors that seem to affect fertility.
Scientific research has shown that sleep can impact the reproductive cycle just as other aspects of overall health would, and vice versa too: reproductive cycles influence sleep (have you ever noticed being much sleepier on the last days before getting your period?). So when a woman's circadian rhythm is out of sorts, it will also make an impact on her menstrual cycle.
Sleep helps regulate our hormones and repair damaged cells. Leptin is a hormone that links sleep and fertility. This is a hormone that affects ovulation.
Doctors emphasize that in order for leptin to be produced adequately, women need to get enough sleep. If women are not getting enough sleep, their menstrual cycle may be disrupted.
Some other fertility hormones affected by sleep include progesterone, estrogen, LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone).
Avoid “light pollution”
When the sun goes down, or the lights go off, and you head to dreamland, your body produces melatonin – a hormone that regulates sleeping and waking cycles. Here’s the caveat though: melatonin is also responsible for protecting eggs when they are close to ovulation.
This hormone, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain in response to darkness, is important when women are trying to conceive, because it protects their eggs from oxidative stress caused by free radicals and other degenerative entities.
The evidence shows that every time you turn on the light at night, this turns down the production of melatonin. This kind of “light pollution” basically means, if you are someone who sleeps with lights on, who checks their cell phone every time it buzzes, or has the TV on non-stop, your body’s melatonin cycles get all screwed up.
This, in turn, can prevent your eggs from getting the protection they need, resulting in damaged eggs that are then rejected by the body, or can wind up being the cause of a miscarriage.
If you are trying to get pregnant, maintain at least eight hours of a dark period at night, scientists advised. The light-dark cycle should be regular from one day to the next; otherwise, your biological clock is confused.
The “infertility shift”
Given the above information, it’s not surprising that shift workers have higher numbers of reproductive problems, including issues with infertility. For example, female shift workers are more likely to report menstrual irregularity and longer menstrual cycles.
Disturbed sleep schedules and irregular sleep will generally cause poor health, which will impact on reproductive health, just the same as stress would.
Why does this happen? Our bodies are run by an internal clock called the circadian rhythm. Night shift workers are constantly shifting their circadian rhythms, resulting in the same type of ‘jet lag’ that we associate with traveling to and from different time zones.
Research shows that women who work night shifts suffer more frequently with hormonal imbalances, lower estrogen levels, difficulty conceiving and higher miscarriage rates than their counterparts who work hours that are more normal. To combat this, some employers are altering their nighttime lighting accordingly.
However, if you have struggled to conceive and you work night or swing shifts, it is in your best interest to discuss this research with your employer and make adjustments to your schedule if at all possible.
Don’t let something as simple as an affinity for late night TV or a potentially changeable work schedule prevent you from having the pregnancy you want. Make the necessary changes to establish a healthy sleep pattern and get your circadian – and hormonal – rhythm back on track.