Sleep and fertility: advice to get pregnant
Numerous lifestyle factors can influence the reproductive health of both men and women: overweight, underweight, type of diet, smoking, drinking, physical activity, among others. In general, having 'ill health' can negatively affect the fertile capacity of our species. But what about sleep? Could it affect fertility? And if so, how do you do it?
Influence of sleep on human health
You don't have to look far to find studies showing that quality sleep is essential for good health.
However, the data is discouraging.
The Spanish Society of Neurology (SEN) estimates that:
- Over 4 million people in Spain suffer from a sleep disorder chronic and severe. In particular, women and even more so, the elderly, are the most affected group.
- Solo a third of Spaniards sleep the necessary hours during weekdays.
- Between 20 and 48% of the Spanish adult population suffers, at some point in their life, difficulty initiating or staying asleep.
- More than one 30% of the population wake up feeling like they haven't had a good night's sleep. or end the day very tired.
And, worst of all, the Spanish Society of Neurology estimates that more than two-thirds of people who suffer from sleep problems do not seek professional help.
For this reason, there is World Sleep Day (March 13), to increase sensitivity and awareness of the importance of sleep and its great impact on health.
Not sleeping ALWAYS has consequences.
There are people who crawl if they don't get enough sleep and others seem to carry on like nothing happened. But everyone ends up paying the bill for not sleeping.
Why does sleep affect health so much?
Because it is at night when, in deep sleep, our body regenerates. It recovers from the wear and tear suffered during the day and regenerates tissues and produces new cells.
It is, without a doubt, the best antiaging!
At a mental level, it also integrates data, fixes concepts and elaborates memory. The continuous lack of sufficient hours of restful sleep is physically exhausting important for the body.
Physical consequences of not sleeping well
Not sleeping well affects both the body and the mood. Specifically, it can affect all these facets of health:
- State of mind, humor and sexual desire.
- It affects the ability to concentrate and memory.
- It influences the ability to be creative.
- It affects the ability to make decisions and find solutions to problems.
- It also influences motor coordination and balance.
Lack of sleep also favors certain problems:
- Weight gain
- Risk of heart disease.
- Intestinal and blood-brain permeability (network of blood vessels and tissue that prevents harmful substances from entering the brain).
All these conditions open the way for a multitude of other pathologies, and put another stick in the wheel of fertility. They may not in themselves be sufficient conditioning factors to prevent fertility, but they do not favor it at all.
How does lack of sleep affect fertility?
How does sleep (or lack thereof) affect the possibility of pregnancy?
Both men and women experience decreased fertility when sleep deprived. Even a few nights without adequate rest can interfere with hormone production and stress response.
In both men and women, the same part of the brain that regulates the hormones involved in sleep and wakefulness (cortisol and melatonin) is also the part that activates the hormones involved in reproduction (gonadotropins and testosterone).
We are going to see the affectations in both men and women.
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Sleep and fertility in women
The hormones that trigger egg maturation and are responsible for triggering ovulation are linked to your sleep-wake pattern.
In a woman deprived of sleep, for example, the interruption can interfere with the hormones that trigger ovulation, since it determines the menstrual cycle. Not getting enough sleep can disrupt your menstrual cycle and cause irregular periods, making it difficult to get pregnant.
Menstrual cycles are closely related to the circadian rhythm or biological rhythm of the body, closely related to the hours of light: day and night.
The brain nucleus called suprachiasmatic is responsible for this circadian rhythm, that is, it is the one that tells the body when and how many hormones to release. So, it's easy to think that following a very irregular sleep pattern takes us away from a good functioning of this rhythm and can alter, or even interrupt, a woman's menstrual cycle.
Studies on sleep and fertility
On the other hand, there are studies that confirm this good relationship between sleep rhythm and fertility:
- Low levels of the hormones prolactin and melatonin, which work at night, are capable of suppressing ovarian function in women.
- Women who sleep longer seem to have higher levels of FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), whose function is to stimulate the growth of ovarian follicles before the release of the egg.
- Melatonin naturally has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which is why it is widely used to improve the quality of ovarian follicles against damage caused by oxidation by free radicals.
Sleep and fertility in men
It is believed that the loss of function of the blood-brain barrier due to lack of sleep can also generate alterations in the integrity of other physiological barriers, such as the one that exists in certain areas of the testicles.
Studies have confirmed that sleep loss decreases sperm viability and its mobility quickly and progressively, influencing the levels of testosterone in the blood and the final quality of the sperm.
As in women, Sleeping few hours reduces the reproductive capacity of men.
The curious thing is that sleeping for many hours also, although the association is weaker and imprecise.
When healthy young men have reduced sleep for a week, a maximum of 5 hours, testosterone levels decrease between 10% and 15%, reaching the levels of someone 20 years older.
One study revealed that a reduced sleep schedule results in a lower sperm count and lower sperm survival rate. The researchers found an increase in the production of "antisperm antibodies," resulting in poor sperm quality.
Association between sleep quality and IVFs
Women's sleep quality shows a clear deterioration when undergoing IVF, both before and during treatments. The study is done using the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index.
In these studies, the variations in the quantity and quality of sleep were evaluated by different methods during the IVF treatments of 22 women.
Sleep quality was markedly worse in the time before embryo transfer and improved after embryo transfer.
Three points seemed to be determining factors for a variation of 40% in the number of retrieved oocytes: the level of anti-Müllerian hormone, the level of FSH and the total hours of sleep reported.
Another study reported a significant association between sleep disturbances and poor ovarian response or low number of oocytes retrieved in a series of 200 women undergoing IVF.
Finally, in another study of 656 women undergoing IVF, no correlation was found between sleep duration and the number of oocytes retrieved or fertilization rates.
Even so, it was observed Significantly higher pregnancy rate in the middle sleeper group (7-8 hours) vs. the long sleeper group (9-11 hours), and a trend toward a higher number of pregnancies in the group of medium sleepers than in the group of short sleepers (4-6 hours).
In this same sense, another study that did not conclude a special association between the hours of sleep and the success of IVFs did report the existence of a notable deterioration in the quality of sleep at the time of retrieval of the oocytes in the group of IVF compared to control groups.
This study also reported that shift work (evening, night, or rotating shifts) was associated with poor oocyte retrieval outcomes in 462 women undergoing IVF.
Even so, more studies are needed to confirm these hypotheses.
How much sleep is necessary to improve fertility?
To ensure that the physiological needs for sleep are satisfied, a minimum of hours must be slept in a row, without interruptions. At least 6 hours overnight or in the dark and a maximum of 9 hours. Yes, there is also talk of a recommended maximum number of hours since sleeping too much can also interfere with fertility.
A recent study by the National Sleep Foundation found that women undergoing IVF who got seven to eight hours of sleep had a 25% higher chance of conceiving than those who got nine hours of sleep each night.
Those who experienced less than seven hours were 15% less likely to get pregnant.
What can I do to improve my sleep?
Chronic sleep loss is closely related to stress and anxiety. To overcome the situation, there are "sleep hygiene" recommendations.
Perform some type of aerobic exercise daily
Choose an exercise that temporarily raises your heart rate. At least for 30 minutes and preferably outdoors, in the sun. Sun exposure 12 hours before bedtime promotes endogenous melatonin production 12 hours later.
Doing even a simple activity like walking for half an hour will improve your sleep. In the case of women, it is better to avoid intense exercises in the late afternoon.
Have a bedtime and routine
Be routine in the hours of going to sleep. Even on weekends! This is especially important when trying to conceive. Going to bed early one night and then staying up until dawn can confuse your body clock. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
Prepare your room for a restful sleep
Setting the stage for a comfortable night's sleep is ideal for improving the quality of your rest. Keep your room dark and cool. The use of masks and plugs is recommended if you are a particularly sensitive person.
avoid blue light
It is important that you avoid blue light, that is, "no screens" for 120 minutes before going to bed. And if it is impossible to avoid them, there are specific glasses for filtering blue light.
Prepare for bedtime
After 20pm it is better to slow down. Try to develop relaxing activities before going to bed. Take a bath (not too hot), drink some hot tea, read a book, listen to relaxing music, or find a calming way to signal to your mind and body that bedtime is near.
Avoid large meals
Eating large meals just before going to sleep makes it difficult to fall asleep, either because they involve heavy digestion or because they are stimulating.
Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
This should be a recommendation for general health, regardless of whether a pregnancy is sought or not. But in this case, and to improve sleep and increase the chances of conceiving, it is important not to drink caffeine or alcohol until 7 hours before bedtime.
These recommendations can help you improve your sleep, whether you are trying to get pregnant naturally or if you are undergoing assisted reproduction treatment.
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- Lateef OM, Akintubosun MO 2020 Sleep and Reproductive Health. Journal of Circadian Rhythms, 18(1): 1, p. 1–11.
- Lauren AW et al. Male sleep duration and fecundability in a North American preconception cohort study
Andrology. VOL. 109 NO. 3. March 2018
- Dominguez‐Salazar, E. et al. Chronic sleep loss disrupts blood–testis and blood–epididymis barriers, and reduces male fertility. Journal of sleep research. 2019;00:e12907.
- Caetano, G. et al. Impact of sleep on female and male reproductive functions: a systematic review. ENVIRONMENT AND EPIDEMIOLOGY. August 2020
- Goldstein CA. et al. Sleep in women undergoing in vitro fertilization: a pilot study. SleepMed 2017;32:105–13.
- Mínguez-Alarcóm, L. et al. Occupational factors and markers of ovarian reserve and response among women at a fertility center. Occupy Environ Med 2017;74:426–31.