When a couple is planning on starting a family, you may be solely concentrating on one bedroom activity. However, according to several pieces of research, sleep could be the key to increasing your chances of conceiving.
This isn't gendered specific, and lack of sleep quality can affect both men and women’s fertility in different ways, so there’s a range of things that everyone can do to improve fertility rates. Sleep plays an integral role as part of an overall lifestyle, so it should come as no surprise that getting quality rest each night can bring a range of benefits.
How can sleep affect men’s fertility?
A research study published in the Fertility and Sterility journal took place featuring around 700 couples, and the results garnered suggested that getting the recommended levels of sleep each night increases the probability of a man successfully getting their partner to conceive.
Men who got less than six hours of shut-eye per night were almost a third less likely to get their partner pregnant compared to men who got the recommended six to seven hours of sleep per night.
The surprising part of the results was that it seems that it's not just sleep deprivation that harms fertility, but also oversleeping. It was found that men in the study who slept for more than nine hours per night decreased the odds of conception by half.
A previous study has shown that men who get six hours of sleep per night had sperm counts that were 25% lower than those men who get the full recommended eight hours of sleep per night.
The results from this study encouraged Chinese researchers to researchers at the Harbin Medical University in China to explore how sleep duration and bedtime affect the overall sperm quality, and also the reasons why these changes occur.
980 men took part in the study and then divided into three separate groups with each group having different bedtimes:
• Between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m
• Between 10 p.m. and midnight
• After midnight
Each participant in these groups had alarm clocks set, so they had a specific amount of sleep of either:
• six hours of sleep or less
• seven to eight hours
• nine hours or more.
Sperm samples were then taken regularly from each man to study the sperm count, shape, survival and motility in relation to their sleep activity. The findings gained from the study revealed that sperm counts and survival rates were lower in men who went to bed later in the night and got less sleep.
Also sleeping for more than nine hours had the same adverse effect on sperm quality as those who were under sleeping.
The explanation behind this is that by going to bed late, this activates the rise in anti-sperm antibody volume which is a protein produced by the immune system. This protein can destroy healthy sperm with then affects fertility rates, because they can block sperm movement which then makes it difficult for the sperm to reach the egg and initiate fertilisation.
Health professionals have long suggested that sleep and fertility are also linked to testosterone levels. Testosterone levels are at their highest in the morning upon waking and then they gradually fall throughout the day.
A study conducted in 2016 provided data that suggests sleep affects male fertility through testosterone levels. Testosterone is one of the main building blocks for reproduction, and a large proportion of testosterone & sperm production and release occurs during sleep.
It was found that men who suffered from sleep deprivation were less likely to impregnate their partner compared to those men who had no issues sleeping.
The final study that supports the theory that sleep deprivation can affect fertility was conducted by the Boston University School of Public Health Pregnancy Study Online abstract and presented at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s Scientific Congress. This study suggested that sleeping too much or too little can have adverse effects on male fertility.
The study featured 790 couples who were actively trying to conceive over 12 months. They were quizzed on their current sleep habits including sleep duration, bedtimes and any sleep problems.
The ages of the participants were controlled with men being over the age of 21 and the females between the ages of 21 and 45. Other factors that could affect fertility were also controlled such as intercourse frequency.
The results from the study showed that men who slept for more than 9 hours or less than 6 hours were 42% less likely to impregnate their partner compared to men who got the recommended 7 to 8 hours.
How long does it take to reverse these issues?
If you’re hoping to increase the chances of conception, then it would be sensible to start improving your sleep habits. The results are not attainable overnight and enhancing sperm production, and quality can take an average of two to three months, but stay consistent, and it’s more than possible.
How can sleep affect women’s fertility?
Your chances of conceiving can not only be increased by the man optimising their sleep, but there are steps the female can also do to improve their success rates.
One little known fact is that your working hours can impact overall fertility. This is mostly an effect of Melatonin which is a sleep hormone which regulates your sleeping pattern but is also responsible for protecting the quality of eggs that are close to ovulating.
This has the potential to become a more widespread problem because the workforce is getting more fragmented leading to a rise in the number of people who work a night shift rota.
So taking this into account, if you work night shifts, then this can cause the same issues as they often experience a higher number of fertility issues. A study conducted revealed that women who work night shifts have a higher chance of encountering difficulties when attempting to conceive compared to people who have regular working hours.
This has led to night shift worker changing the intensity of light that they are exposed to. So, if you’re having difficulty conceiving and work night shifts, then this could be something to change with your employer to allow your circadian rhythm to move back to normal.
The same theory of being exposed to light can extend into the home. It means that if you watch TV to get to sleep, regularly check your phone throughout the night or sleep with the lights on then, this can suppress the amount of Melatonin produced.
Sleep also has an effect on vitro-fertilisation rates which has been revealed by a new study. The study carried out by research experts in Korea collated and analysed the self-reported sleeping habits of over 650 women before undergoing IVF treatment.
These women were then placed into three groups:
• Short sleepers- Four to six hours per day
• Moderate sleepers - Seven to eight hours per day
• Long sleepers" Nine to 11 hours per day
In total, pregnancy rates were higher in the moderate sleep group with a 53% success rate, whereas short sleepers came in at 46% while longer sleepers were recorded at 43%. This also highlights the fact that oversleeping can be just as detrimental as being deprived of sleep.
The key is to have a balanced circadian rhythm, so that hormone balance is maintained, so the key is to stick to the recommended amount of seven to eight hours per night.
Does suffering from sleep disorders affect my chances?
Women who suffer from sleep disorders other than sleep apnea may be more than three times more prone to have issues conceiving compared to other women who don’t have sleep problems according to a recent study.
There are already several research studies that already link sleep apnea and a decrease in fertility rates, however, this study set out to look at women who suffer from other sleep disorders.
The study analysed existing data of 16,718 women who had been diagnosed with sleep disorders between the years of 2000 and 2010 in the country of Taiwan. These women were compared to a control group of 33,436 women who didn’t suffer from any sleep disorders.
The women had an average age of 35 years; however, the included range of women was 20 to 45. Each woman was followed up after an average of five years later and it was revealed that 29 participants in the sleep disorder group experienced infertility as well as 34 women in the comparison group.
The data analysed concluded that participants with sleep disorders were 2.7 times more likely to experience infertility and once the researchers factored in each woman’s age and other underlying health issues, it was shown that participants with sleep disorders were 3.7 times more prone to experience infertility.
What other factors can affect sleep and fertility?
Lack of sleep can also affect your indirect fertility ways other than hormonally, so be aware of these and make any changes to increase your success rate.
Lack of sleep will affect your overall mood which can strain the relationship with your spouse which can result in few chances for sexual activity leading to a lower chance of a pregnancy occurring.
If you’re currently suffering from sleep deprivation when you begin to get the recommended level of sleep you will notice that you will be much more upbeat and energetic.
Adjust your work hours
There is plenty of research that shows that late night working is linked to an increase in fertility issues so if you currently work a night shift, then it would be a good idea to either look for a more pregnancy-friendly role or work with your employer to move your shifts to more traditional hours.
If you have no choice but to work shift/night work, then you need to ensure that you get sufficient rest during your hours at home, so you are fully rested before your next work shift.
Sleep in the dark
It’s easy to fall asleep with the TV on or sit on your mobile phone for hours in bed, but all this does is reduce your sleep quality.
If you have trouble relaxing in the evening, then a practical solution is to install dimmer lights or blinds in your home so you can control the lighting and wind down, so it’s easy to fall asleep.
Most people who are oversleeping or under sleeping is mostly a result of not having a consistent sleeping schedule meaning that they are going to bed earlier some nights and later on other nights.
To combat this, you need to set out a consistent sleep schedule where you wake and go to sleep at the same time on the same surface, even on weekends. You may need an alarm clock at first to help normalise your circadian rhythm, but this should only take a few days before your body adapts.
Avoid Melatonin supplements without supervision
It sounds like a logical decision that if you’re suffering to release enough Melatonin to feel tired, then you should supplement it.
However, taking Melatonin pills can have the opposite to your desired effect and result in suppressed fertility. There are also a whole host of other side effects associated with supplemented melatonin such as dizziness and anxiety.
Melatonin can be the right solution for the right women, so it’s essential that you consume under the supervision of a medical professional.
Diagnose sleep issues
The worst thing you can do is ignore any symptoms of sleep disorders that you may be suffering from as there may be a more serious underlying issue at play. If you don’t feel like you’re sleeping effectively, then it’s essential that you visit a medical professional.
It could be as simple as you overheat, which can be solved by using a fan.
So as you can see sleep is incredibly important not just for your overall health but also your fertility for both men and women, however, this isn’t the only important thing and is part of the overall puzzle to maintain a healthy body including diet, lifestyle and exercise.