How Sleep Might Be Affecting Your Fertility

Sleep and sleep disturbances are increasingly recognised as determinants of women’s health and wellbeing, particularly in the context of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.

While the relationship between sleep and fertility is largely unknown, more research is being published highlighting the relationship between sleep disturbance and reproductive health. With respect to reproductive capacity, the relevant domains could include problems with fertility, conception, implantation, gestation, delivery, and/or neonatal health. Dr David Knight, Medical Director at Demeter Fertility supports these findings, highlighting an alarming correlation between increasing fertility reduction in female patients and sleep deprivation. Dr David Knight also notes how these effects can be reversed by more consistent and uninterrupted sleep.

More generally however, The Sleep Health Foundation Report, released by Deloitte Access Economics, estimated 7.4 million Australians didn’t get enough sleep in the 2016-2017 financial year, which in turn impacted their ability to function at normal levels of alertness, concentration and emotional control. Unfortunately, the effects of lack of sleep impact more than our ability to operate day to day, it impacts our fertility, and here’s why:

  • Firstly, in both men and women, the same part of the brain that regulates sleep-wake hormones (such as melatonin and cortisol) also triggers a daily release of reproductive hormones.
  • Secondly, the hormones that trigger ovulation in women and the sperm-maturation process in men may be tied into the body’s sleep-wake patterns. For example, if you’re a woman, long-term lack of sleep may directly affect the release of luteinising hormone, or LH — the hormone that triggers ovulation as part of regulating your menstrual cycle. The resulting menstrual irregularity may mean it takes longer for you to conceive.

Turning to peer reviewed published findings, to date, the majority of evidence for the association between sleep disturbance and diminished reproductive capacity has been within the area of shift work. In general, adverse reproductive health outcomes were observed (e.g. menstrual irregularities, dysmenorrhea, increased time to, and reduced rates for, conception, increased miscarriages, lower birth weights) and were taken to implicate the negative effects of circadian misalignment, and/or the sleep disturbance that coincides with shift work. Dr David Knight says that, “evidence from recent womb biopsies reveal the link between miscarriage or infertility, and the inability of a mother’s clock to synchronise with the womb’s clock…A failure of embryonic and maternal body clock genes to synchronise may have catastrophic consequences and jeopardise the pregnancy”.

Also, sleep dysregulation in the form of sleep apnea and insomnia disproportionately affects women compared to men. These sleeping disorders impact sleep continuity which puts women who are trying to conceive at far less than optimal circumstances for reproduction. It is recommended that Women who experience such conditions should seek treatment. Culnan et al 2015 in their research paper, “Sleep, sleep disturbance, and fertility in women” summarise why, “At minimum, treatment of sleep disorders as comorbid conditions can be expected to enhance the quality of life of women suffering from infertility. At maximum, one or more sleep disorders represent moderating factors for infertility or response to treatment. If this proves to be the case, treatment for sleep disorders may serve to increase the potential for natural conception, response to fertility treatment, and/or successful carriage to term” (Culnan et al 2015, p. 85)

While the symptoms of lack of sleep are vast and in many respects, quite serious, the good news is that sleeping more, provided it’s uninterrupted and for controlled durations can reverse the symptoms or give women a better chance at conception.

If you’re trying to conceive without success, contact us so that we can assist you in helping identify where the problem may lie. Demeter Fertility’s approach is all about maximising your chances of having a baby.

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