Sleep plays an important role in our lives, affecting all aspects of our wellbeing and our fertility health. Anyone who has had a few bad nights in a row is familiar with how profoundly lack of sleep can affect mood, ability to think clearly and cravings for sugary, fatty foods. Sleep helps to restore and refresh brain and organ systems and regulate important hormones including hormones that affect fertility. 

Sleep and Your Microbiome

Given how fundamental sleep is to physical and mental wellbeing it’s not surprising to learn that it also interacts with your microbiome. Growing evidence suggests that the microbiome influences sleep quality.1 Diversity of the microbiome promotes healthier sleep. Partial sleep deprivation can alter the microbiome composition in as little as 48 hours, according to research. 

A study found that total microbiome diversity was positively correlated with increased sleep efficiency and total sleep time and was negatively correlated with the ability to fall back asleep after waking up. In other words, the more microbiome diversity you have, the better night’s sleep you will have, and you’ll be less likely to wake up throughout the night which is beneficial for fertility.1 Compromised sleep can alter successful conception through the suppression of reproductive hormones and lack of microbiome.3

Sleep and Your Fertility Health

A lack of sleep can affect fertility both directly and indirectly, research shows. Some hormones are influenced by sleep, including insulin, ghrelin, leptin, and cortisol. Cortisol can trigger the release of reproductive hormones. Over time, therefore, poor sleep quality can affect the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle.2 

During a normal and healthy sleep cycle, fertility hormones exhibit a pattern that happens within a 24-hour cycle also called a circadian pattern. Melatonin, a key circadian hormone that helps us to fall asleep, is associated with fertility. Without a healthy sleeping schedule, your hormones are at risk of falling out of cycle which in turn affects fertility.3

Developing a poor sleep pattern can affect other areas of your health too. This can include a weight change and added stress, both of which can impact fertility levels. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is the body’s central stress response system. It plays a key role in regulating hormone levels and the body’s stress response. When activated due to stress levels, sleep can be compromised. Having an altered sleep duration may further increase HPA activation, thus interfering with reproduction and impacting the success of fertility. It is important not to underestimate the impact that sleep can have on your fertility.3

Tips to improve your sleep

Making a few changes could help you take control to ensure a better night’s sleep. Here are a few simple things to try.

  • Listen to your body. What is the best time for you to go to bed and wake up? Often, you’ll discover on holiday when you naturally wake up and when you feel most sleepy. Try setting a regular bedtime schedule and get up at the same time every day.
  • Make changes that can support your bedtime schedule like disabling the “autoplay next episode” setting on Netflix. 
  • Create a better sleep environment. Darkness, cool temperatures, and quietness all help to give the body a more restful sleep.
  • Use earplugs and an eye mask if it’s not possible for you to reduce noise and light in your bedroom. 
  • Avoid stimulants, such as caffeine and alcohol, several hours before going to bed. 
  • Try to relax before going to bed, have a bath, read a book, turn off mobile devices and leave them outside the bedroom if possible. 
  • Mobile phones and computers stimulate brain activity and can make it more difficult to get to sleep. 
  • Many smartphones have a “digital wellbeing” setting which allows you to automatically schedule time offline in the evening.
  • If you have to use technology in the evenings, get blue-light filtering glasses that reduce the sleep-disrupting blue light entering your eyes. 

Adults are recommended to get 6 to 9 hours of sleep each night to achieve the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Don’t worry about the occasional poor night’s sleep – this will inevitably happen occasionally – but do have a plan to improve your overall sleep habits. 

Small changes can make a difference; see what works best for you. It may take time to build and strengthen healthy sleep habits, but as you do, you’re improving overall health and your chances of successful conception. Increasing the amount of Exercise and Movement in your day can also contribute to better sleep. And having a support system to talk to about the things that you’re worried about can help you to put any worries you have to one side before going to bed.