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Can Sleep Deprivation Affect Fertility?

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April 22, 2020
fertility sleep naturopathic doctor toronto

As many of us are practicing physical distancing and working from home, it’s a great time to focus on sleep – especially if you’re hoping to become pregnant in the near future! This is because sleep deprivation can affect fertility – no matter if you’re a man or a woman.

Sleep deprivation happens when there’s a decrease in your total amount of sleep over a certain period of time, or when there’s a shortage of sleep per night. It can also happen during shift work or from jet-lag.

Sleep deprivation can contribute to many adverse health conditions (ex. high blood pressure, depression and anxiety disorders, glucose dysregulation, etc.). Studies in humans who experienced a shorter duration of sleep experienced with high cases of mortality. Unfortunately in animal studies, long-term sleep deprivation lead to death!

Today I’m going to tell you how your sleep routine might be impacting your fertility and what you can start to do to get back on track!

Female Fertility and Sleep

In women, sleep affects many reproductive hormones.

TSH and Sleep

With respect to the thyroid, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) has a significant increase in women experiencing acute sleep deprivation. This can lead to anovulation, amenorrhea (no period), and recurrent miscarriages.

Prolactin and Sleep

Prolactin is a hormone that plays a role in reproduction, and in the postpartum, it stimulates milk production (for chest or breastfeeding). In sleep deprivation, prolactin levels may increase causing hyperprolactinemia which is associated with anovulation, PCOS, and endometriosis.

Estrogen and Sleep

Estrogen, specifically estradiol, is needed for the development and maintenance of female sex characteristics. In sleep deprivation, estradiol increases and is associated with poorer sleep quality.

Melatonin and Sleep

Interestingly enough, melatonin is a hormone and is quite important when it comes to fertility! Melatonin is secreted at night, basically telling your body that it’s time to go to sleep. As the night progresses and it turns into morning, melatonin production decreases until it’s shut off completely.

With fertility, melatonin enhances reproductive function by syncing your sexual behaviour with the appropriate season and timing for mating and conception.

When you’re ovulating, melatonin protects your eggs from stress. But if your melatonin level is low, it’s associated with stress which can ultimately impact the quality of your eggs.

If you’re undergoing IVF, taking melatonin may actually help improve your outcomes – like the number of eggs retrieved, egg quality and maturation, and fertilization rate. This is also seen in women with PCOS. Before placing melatonin in an online shopping cart, consult with your ND to determine if melatonin as a supplement is right for you.

Shift Work and Female Fertility

In women working shift work, studies showed an increased odds of abnormal menstrual cycles and infertility was also seen – however no early spontaneous pregnancy loss was noted. Nevertheless, a study looking at female flight attendants (when work coincided with sleep), there was an increased risk of first-trimester miscarriages.

Male Fertility and Sleep

Sleep deprivation in men can affect their sexual behaviour (even if they had previously excellent sexual behaviour). It specifically affects the time to initiate sex as well as a decreased rate of penetration and ejaculation.

Testosterone and Sleep

Sleep deprivation can lead to increased stress levels which can contribute to lower testosterone production in males. Moreover, low testosterone may cause men to feel tired during the day, find it difficult to concentrate and focus on tasks.

In a rat study, sleep deprivation also led to lower testosterone production. Sleep deprivation also affected rat’s sperm too! Sperm motility, which is the ability of the sperm to move properly, was also significantly reduced.

Simple Sleep Tips

Fertility Sleep National Sleep Foundation Sleep Duration Recommendations

Around 39% of people who responded to the National Sleep Foundation’s survey reported getting less than 7 hours of sleep on weeknights! Because many of us are currently working from home, improving our sleep habits may be possible. Here are a couple of tips to help get you started:

  1. Stick to a schedule. Ideally you want to be going to bed and waking up around the same time each day including weekends. Aim for at least 8 hours per night.
  2. Avoid a few things right before bed like coffee, alcohol, smoking and large meals.
  3. Avoid exercising late into the night, ideally you should not exercise any later than 2-3 hours before bed.
  4. Aim to designate your bedroom for sleep and sex. If it happens to be your makeshift office right now, consider setting a bed-time alarm so you’re able to put everything away at a consistent time. This way, you can stick to your sleep schedule.
  5. Let’s face it, most of us are using some type of device before bed. If you have the option, consider turning on night mode, reducing the amount of blue light that you’re being exposed to.
  6. Your bedroom should also be dark and cool – which means that those cute, fuzzy pj’s may not be the best option for sleep.
  7. In the mornings, expose yourself to bright light! I like to open the blinds once I make my way to my living-room office (it gives me a great view of my tree ad neighbourhood birds). Or you can even consider a sunrise alarm, where you’re woken up to gradual to bright sunlight in the morning.

These are all great options to start with before considering supplements like melatonin – which undoubtedly can be helpful, but fixing your routine is foundational.

If you have any tried and true sleep tips that have worked for you, please share them below!

Reference

Lateef, O., & Akintubosun, M. (2020). Sleep and Reproductive Health. Journal Of Circadian Rhythms18(1). doi: 10.5334/jcr.190

Walker, M. (2017). Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams (1st ed.). Scribner.

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