No one enjoys missing out on sleep. A poor night’s rest leaves you feeling tired, maybe a little grumpy. But it won’t just bring down your mood - missing sleep can also cause fertility issues. It turns out that sleep and fertility go hand in hand: missing out on your beauty sleep not only makes you feel groggy. It also affects your entire body, right down to the triggers and mechanics involved in conceiving! If you are trying for a baby, here are a few reasons to make sure you get a good night’s rest and some ideas on how to do it.
Sleep and Fertility Hormones
We’ve talked about the role of hormones in fertility before, but one in particular - leptin - is tied to how well you sleep. Leptin plays a role in female fertility by stimulating the production of Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). Sleep deprivation reduces leptin levels, which can disrupt the sequence of hormones responsible for ovulation, starting with GnRH.
Sleep can also affect a man’s fertility. Testosterone production is linked to a man’s sleep cycle. Research shows that men who sleep less than five hours a night for a week see a drop in testosterone levels of up to 15%. Testosterone levels peak around the first instance of rapid eye movement - REM - during uninterrupted sleep. Missing that period of REM disrupts hormone levels, which affects the production of sperm.
Tracking Basal Temperature
A common method of tracking ovulation involves keeping a running record of your basal body temperature. This involves taking regular temperature readings just after waking up when your body is at its coolest. However, if you do not get enough restful sleep, the temperature reading will typically be inaccurate - because you’ve probably been shifting around all night, exerting energy and warming up.
It is recommended that you have at least three consecutive hours of sleep to get a good basal temperature reading. If you wake up in the middle of the night - say, to go to the bathroom - and don’t fall back to sleep for those three hours, you probably shouldn’t rely on that day’s reading.
Getting (Enough) Good Sleep for Fertility
When trying for a baby, consider how your sleep may affect your ability to conceive. The National Sleep Foundation provides some criteria for what can be considered good sleep. Do you typically fall asleep quickly? Is your sleep continuous through the night? Be prepared to shuffle your routine around a bit to make sure you are getting enough quality sleep. Also, consider getting a sleep-monitoring health device so you can see just how much sleep you’re getting.
While you should always try to get enough sleep, it may not be correct to say that more sleep is always better. Some research suggests that the sweet spot is between seven and eight hours of sleep each night. Getting less than six hours or more than nine hours on average can lead to significant drops in pregnancy rates.
It’s not just about how much sleep you get, either. When you sleep may also play a role in fertility. The body’s natural day-night cycle, called the circadian rhythm, can be thrown off by being awake at night or asleep during the day. A study of mice conducted by Northwestern University showed that experimental groups that were given light earlier in the day had a 50% pregnancy rate and groups given light later in the day only 22% - compared to the control group with about a 90% pregnancy rate.
Sleep is clearly an important but potentially overlooked factor of fertility issues. If you are having trouble getting enough quality sleep, talk to your doctor about possible solutions.