Can Sleep Impact Female Fertility?

Good sleep, or a lack thereof, can affect a woman’s ability to conceive. Here is a closer look at what science says.

Sleep plays a major role in our overall health, including women’s infertility. Just as your body needs oxygen and food to survive, it needs sleep for optimal health.  Important bodily processes occur when we are resting and without these, we can be easily knocked off of an otherwise solid fertility foundation.

The Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults between the ages of 26 and 64. But according to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults sleep less than seven hours in a 24-hour period.

Influence of Sleep on Female Fertility

A lack of quality sleep, may leave you with a higher risk of ongoing complications, including obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure. These conditions may in turn reduce your chances of successfully conceiving.

When we sleep, our bodies restore and rejuvenate, grow muscle, repair tissue, and synthesize hormones.  A lack of sleep can interfere with hormone production, a vital element of female fertility, by impacting circadian rhythms – your body’s internal clock.  These rhythms also play a key role in the release of  reproductive-related hormones.  Each of these hormones must be in balance for conception and pregnancy to successfully occur.

  • Estrogen – the female sex hormone responsible for the development of the female reproductive system.
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH) – a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that helps trigger the release of an egg by the ovaries. It also stimulates the production of progesterone – a hormone that helps the uterus get ready to support a fertilized egg.
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) – a hormone produced by the pituitary gland responsible for the development of ovarian follicles before the release of an egg.

The pituitary gland and ovaries receive messages from your brain, telling them it is time to produce and release estrogen, LH, and FSH.  These essential hormones need to be available, balanced, and in the right amounts for a healthy menstrual cycle and fertility.

When your sleep-wake cycle is disrupted by things like shift work, artificial light, jet lag, or simply bad sleep quality, the pituitary gland and ovaries send mixed signals, interrupting this vital information pathway.

Melatonin, another hormone, controls your circadian rhythm. Recent research suggests that it can also protect egg quality by acting as an antioxidant to free radicals that affect the egg follicles. The researchers who conducted the study recommended that women trying to conceive should maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle by going to bed at the same time every night and sleep in the dark for about eight hours.

Making Sleep a Priority

If you are undergoing infertility treatment, or have made other lifestyle changes in your attempt to conceive, like taking DHEA or CoQ10 for egg quality, making sleep a priority is another key element in building a solid fertility foundation.  According to the Sleep Foundation, important steps to creating healthy sleep habits for fertility include:

  • Keep a steady sleep-wake cycle
  • Start a relaxing bedtime ritual (could include reading, bath, meditation etc)
  • Avoid shift work when you can
  • Avoid naps in the afternoon
  • Avoid blue light from electronic devices at least 1 hour prior to sleeping
  • Keep artificial light at a minimum at night before bed.  Use a soft lamp instead.
  • Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and heavy meals at night
  • Move or exercise everyday
  • Sleep on a comfortable bed and mattress

If you do not see an improvement in your sleep patterns and fertility, an underlying medical condition may be to blame.  In this case, it may be best to talk to your doctor to discuss treatment options for infertility.