Can sleep affect your fertility?
Sleep plays an important role in our lives, affecting our quality of life and overall health. It might not seem especially important when you are trying to conceive (TTC), especially if your bedroom is being used for more fun activities, but interestingly sleep is also important for both men and women when TTC.
It is best to try to aim for about 8 hours of good quality sleep a night, although half of us only manage 6 hours or less each night. The occasional rough night’s sleep is very normal and can leave you feeling a bit grumpy, more irritable or finding your concentration is lacking. However, research has shown that continued poor sleep not only affects your mood, it can impact on your mental and physical well-being, including leaving you more susceptible to obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
How sleep can affect your fertility
We understand that trying to conceive can cause some people to feel anxious, which may affect the quality and amount of sleep they have. This can become a vicious cycle where you worry about TTC, which can cause sleepless nights, and then worrying about the effects of your lack of sleep on your TTC journey. In both men and women regular sleep disruptions can cause trouble conceiving by reducing the secretion of reproductive hormones. A number of studies have been conducted to look into the effects of sleep and fertility; research suggests that lack of sleep can lower your sex drive and leave you less interested in sex.
In women, poorer sleep quality has also been associated with female dissatisfaction with their sex life. Interestingly, for women who are undergoing fertility treatments, a trial of Japanese women undergoing assisted reproductive technology found that those who enjoyed uninterrupted sleep had an almost 20 per cent better fertilisation rate when compared to those who slept badly.
In men it has been found that those with a condition called sleep apnoea, which affects breathing while sleeping, tend to have lower testosterone levels and a lower sex drive. Research in men has also highlighted a possible relationship between sleep problems, erectile dysfunction, and lower testosterone levels. In addition, studies suggest that late bedtimes, short or long sleep durations, and poor sleep quality may impair semen quality.
What you can do to get a good night’s sleep
When it comes to sleep, there are 2 types of poor sleeper; those who try but can’t, and those who could but don’t!
If you fall into the latter camp, then maybe your lifestyle is not beneficial to a good night’s sleep. You might need to make some changes, including having a bit more down time, fewer late nights, saying no to watching just one more episode of your current box set and taking time to recharge your batteries.
If you are someone who would love to sleep better but struggle, that can be really frustrating, but you are certainly not alone, as one in three people suffer from poor sleep. We live in the most stimulating era there has ever been. Everything is fast paced, available 24/7 and thanks to technology, nothing and no-one is ever out of reach. This can make switching off at night all the more difficult.
We thought we’d share some top tips to try to help improve your sleep:
Get into a better sleep routine - The key to a better night’s sleep can be falling into a regular sleep routine by getting up at the same time every day of the week, even on the weekend. Try to avoid daytime naps and go to bed in the evening when you feel sleepy. If you go to bed before your body is ready for sleep, the frustration of not getting to sleep straight away can then keep you awake. If you don’t feel tired yet, try reading a book or meditation. After a poor night’s sleep try to increase your exposure to bright light in the morning, perhaps head out for an early morning walk. .
Make your bedroom a sanctuary – A bedroom should only be for sleep and intimacy, that means no work, ironing or clutter. Try to keep your bedroom tidy and free from technology. Invest in a pair of blackout curtains and ensure it isn’t too hot or cold. Your bedroom needs to be the perfect balance of calm and quiet to aid a good night’s rest.
Eat earlier and eat the good stuff – Digesting food late in the evening can sometimes disrupt sleep. Try to eat earlier and avoid caffeine, alcohol and highly spiced or highly fatty foods as they can impact negatively on your sleep. Instead, opt for simple protein-based food, such as eggs, lentils, chicken or fish, with healthy carbohydrates like beans and pulses, sweet potato, wholemeal pasta or brown rice.
Time to limit the tech – Wherever possible avoid bright blue light technology within 2 hours of your bedtime because it suppresses your melatonin production (your natural sleep hormone). 6 A bright digital clock display at the side of your bed will only have you checking the time so maybe go for something a bit more subtle.
Exercise – Regular exercise can help to promote a good night’s sleep by releasing built up stress and tension. The post-exercise release of endorphins, your happy hormone, can help reduce worry. This doesn’t necessarily mean hitting the gym, you could try yoga at home or taking the dog for a walk. Try to avoid exercise within 4 hours of your bedtime and find a time that suits you.
Avoid stimulants – Coffee, tea and chocolate all contain caffeine which is your enemy if you struggle with sleep. Reduce your caffeine intake and never have caffeine within 2 hours of your bedtime or more if you can. Nicotine from smoking is another stimulant that can interfere with your sleep. While alcohol is not actually a stimulant, if you are struggling to sleep it should be avoided. It can make you feel sleepy, but the quality of your sleep is poor so you can either have disturbed sleep or you don’t wake feeling refreshed.
Relaxation techniques – Anything from simply having a warm bath or taking few deep breaths, to consciously allowing your body to feel relaxed and heavy while lying down can help you get better sleep.6 If your mind races when you’re in bed, try reading a book to distract your thoughts or some visual imagery like imagining you are somewhere calm and peaceful. You can find out more about mindfulness at the Mental Health Foundation’s mindfulness page.
Invest in a new bed - A bed as little as 6 years old could offer less support than a new one and after 10 years it could have deteriorated by as much as 70%, giving you less support and reduced comfort.
Seek out professional help - If you have been struggling to sleep for some time and have tried a wide range of techniques and lifestyle changes, but it is still affecting your mental or physical health, you should speak to a healthcare professional.
Helpful products from the Dr Fertility range
As part of your new healthy sleep routine you could try a relaxing bath in the evening allowing yourself a good break from all electronic devices.
Our BetterYou Magnesium Body Lotion or BetterYou Magnesium Body Oil can be applied directly to wet skin and massaged in. The Body Lotion contains shea butter which softens your skin. Massaging can also help to soothe your muscles, promote relaxation and help you to feel sleepier.
For more information about how to get a good night’s sleep you can get a free download of the ‘How to sleep better’ guide from The Mental Health Foundation here: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-sleep-better
1. NHS – Live Well sleep and tiredness. Online content accessed 13.07.20 - https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/sleep-and-tiredness/why-lack-of-sleep-is-bad-for-your-health/
2. Sleep Council ‘Toxic Sleep’ survey, January 2011 - https://sleepcouncil.org.uk/latest-news/toxic-sleep-the-silent-epidemic/
3. Subjective sleep quality, unstimulated sexual arousal, and sexual frequency. Costa R, Costa D, Pestana J. Sleep Sci. 2017;10(4):147-153. doi:10.5935/1984-0063.20170026 - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5760048/
4. The interaction between erectile dysfunction complaints and depression in men: a cross-sectional study about sleep, hormones and quality of life. Soterio-Pires JH, Hirotsu C, Kim LJ, Bittencourt L, Tufik S, Andersen ML. Int J Impot Res. 2017 Mar; 29(2):70-75.- https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27904148/
5. Associations of bedtime, sleep duration, and sleep quality with semen quality in males seeking fertility treatment: a preliminary study. Hvidt JEM, Knudsen UB, Zachariae R, Ingerslev HJ, Philipsen MT, Frederiksen Y. Basic Clin Androl. 2020;30:5. Published 2020 Apr 23. doi:10.1186/s12610-020-00103-7 -https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7181488/
6. Clinical Knowledge Summaries, online content accessed 13.07.20 - https://cks.nice.org.uk/insomnia#!scenarioRecommendation:1
7. The poor quality of women’s sleep negatively influences fertilization rates in assisted reproductive technology. S. Akamatsu, J. Otsuki, M. Fujii, N. Enatsu, Y. Tsuji, T. Iwasaki, M. Shiotani. Hanabusa Women’s Clinic, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan; Kobe City Medical Center West Hospital, Kobe, Hyogo, Japan. Page 121. - https://www.fertstert.org/pb/assets/raw/Health%20Advance/journals/fns/suppl_108_3S.pdf
Written on 17/08/2020 Review by 17/08/2023