The connection between sleep and fertility is not always self evident, although getting to bed early with your partner may for some couples have obvious benefits.
You may not realise that the quality and quantity of your sleep influences sex hormones, sperm production, ovulation, immune factors, weight gain, mood, stress levels and longevity as well as the more obvious stamina.
Getting enough good quality sleep is an essential part of preparing for conception for all these reasons. Acupuncture as method to assist in establishing sound sleep patterns has been the subject of a number of trials, most with positive findings. Meta-analysis of these trials presents difficulty due to many different trial methods and hence no firm clinical recommendations can be made at this time.
8-9 hours of uninterrupted slumber is what is recommended as ideal by sleep scientists. According to the National Sleep Foundation, 70 percent of us in the developed world don’t get enough sleep. Yet sleep is integral to our quality of life and overall general and reproductive health.
Sleep, sex hormones and pregnancy
Lack of sleep affects ovulation, causing menstrual irregularity and delaying conception. A large proportion (50%) of women who work in notoriously sleep-deprived professions such as flight attendants and nurses and other night shift workers experience irregular and erratic periods. In some cases they stop having periods altogether. Sleep disrupted by night shifts at the time of ovulation and conception may increase the odds of miscarriage. In general, getting less than 8 hours a night sleep is considered a risk factor for first trimester miscarriage.
In an ideal world men and women trying to conceive should avoid shift work, or skimping on sleep, or if this is impossible they should make a concerted effort to catch up on sleep when they can.
Lack of sleep can also cause a slump in sperm production. Testosterone production in men occurs during the night, normally increasing 20 – 30%; a good night’s sleep is important for optimum testosterone levels. Cutting back on sleep drastically reduces a healthy young man’s testosterone levels.
Sleep, weight loss and metabolism.
As it turns out tired people can’t lose weight so easily. A small study looked at people trying to lose weight and observed that if they didn’t get enough sleep this reduced the amount of weight lost by 55%. Less sleep time resulted in increased hunger but lower resting metabolic rate; a sure recipe for weight gain, not weight loss. Lack of sleep also raised levels of ghrelin. This hormone not only reduces energy expenditure but promotes the retention of fat.
So important is the role of sleep in weight loss that the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center in California has suggested that sleep needs to be included in weight loss packages that have traditionally focused on just diet and exercise.
And its not just weight loss, its general health too that is affected by lack of sleep. The odds of having other disorders like heart disease are increased when sleep is inadequate. Insufficient sleep also leads to cortisol changes.
Sleep and the immune system
The complex and intimate interactions between sleep and the immune system have been the focus of study for several years. Likewise the impact of immune factors on fertility are currently the object of intense research.
We know that certain immune factors (cytokines) regulate sleep and in turn are altered by sleep and sleep deprivation. People with chronic insomnia tend to have higher levels of some cytokines, notably interleukin-6 and tumor necrosis factor.
Some researchers have proposed that a sub-optimal cytokine environment can contribute to miscarriage or implantation failure.
Sleep, mood and stress
We discussed some of the effects of stress on reproductive health here.
Anxiety levels have been shown to increase incrementally the longer sleep loss continues. However emotional and physiological stress caused by lack of sleep is reversible once sleep loss is recovered. Sleep restriction or prolonged wakefulness result in an activation of at least some of the biological mechanisms involved in the stress response.
Disturbed sleep also increases inflammatory processes in the body.
Sleep during pregnancy
Sound sleep, especially in the early weeks and last weeks of pregnancy is important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy which goes to full term. Sleep disturbance appears to be associated with higher risk of preterm birth.
As well as helping you be more energetic, healthier, lose weight and feel happier, sleeping enough also helps you to live longer.
By now you probably wont need any persuading that sleep is a crucial component of your overall preconception plan for maximising your reproductive health. There are many ways that you can improve your sleep quality and some of these are listed below.
The following tips are provided by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) and others to help you get the most out of sleep: although the optimal amount of sleep is about 8 hours on average, requirements vary from person to person and somewhat from season to season and even at different times of the menstrual cycle. If you have signs of drowsiness or poor concentration during the day, or it is hard to get out of bed in the morning you are not getting enough good quality sleep.
* Make your bedroom a comfortable and safe place. Reduce noise and extreme temperatures and keep the room dark.
* Use light and comfortable bed linens and garments. Overheating interferes with deep sleep and can have a subtle effect on fertility.
* Go to bed only when you are sleepy and use the bed only for sleeping and sex.
* Begin rituals to help you relax at bedtime, such as taking a soothing bath or enjoying a light snack and herbal tea.
* Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends and holidays.
* A short power nap after lunch helps night time sleep but keep it to less than one hour and take it before 3 p.m.
* Only drink caffeine in the morning, and avoid alcohol and cigarettes late in the day.
* Stay away from fatty, spicy foods that are likely to upset your stomach or cause heartburn.
* Set aside time during the day to relax and aim to get outdoors into the sunlight for about an hour each day. Exercise regularly but not just before bed.
* If you are still having difficulty its worth considering trying acupuncture.