Humans have been getting up with the sunrise, and going to bed when it sets, for thousands and thousands of years. Enter the advent of electricity, and the industrial revolution of the mid-nineteenth century, and millennia of healthy human circadian rhythm was turned on its head. Humans can easily remain awake long after the sun sets because electric lights create a faux-sense of daylight. Many of us are able to work long hours or graveyard shifts, as a result of technological advancements. Unfortunately, it seem that all this sleep disruption may be hurting women in a most vulnerable area: fertility.
Recent studies show that a lack of sleep, and working jobs that require shift work, may seriously compromise a woman’s ability to conceive and to have a healthy live birth. These serious findings are even more important for women who are interested or currently attempting IVF treatments to get pregnant.
Sleep in moderation is optimal for IVF success
This article in the Huffington Post highlights the findings of a recent research study done in Korea. The doctors evaluated the sleep habits of 650 women before they started their IVF treatments. The women were divided into categories, depending on their average hours of sleep each night. Women who got four to six hours each day were termed “Short Sleepers,” those with seven to eight were “Moderate Sleepers” and “Long Sleepers” were women who slept nine to eleven hours each night.
It turned out that women in the Moderate Sleepers category had IVF pregnancy rates of 56%. Contrary to what you might predict, women in the Long Sleepers category had the lowest pregnancy rates (43%) and women in the Short Sleepers category had an IVF pregnancy rate of 46%. While there is still much to be examined regarding the relationship between sleep and fertility rates, experts advise women who are undergoing IVF treatments, as well as those who want to conceive naturally, to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
Why is sleep so important for fertility and successful IVF outcomes?
The study’s authors presented their findings at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s annual meeting this past summer. They believe the primary link between healthy sleep habits and fertility lies in the circadian rhythm’s effect on hormone production. Our body relies on sleep to recharge its batteries, process our subconscious and conscious memories, and sleep is also responsible for certain hormone secretions. Too much or too little sleep has a negative impact on our endocrine system, which is responsible for hormone production.
The problem with this, says Dr. Evan Rosenbluth, is, “…there are so many details that are hard to control for. For instance, sleep quality and other patient variables, such as stress and weight, which have known effects on fertility can also have effects on sleep.” He likens it to the conundrum of the chicken and the egg; it’s difficult to know what comes first, the stress or its effect on women’s sleep habits. Another example of the role that sleep deprivation and/or an irregular circadian rhythm and its effects on fertility has been evidenced in women who do shift work at odd hours or who work graveyard shifts.
Dr. Linden Stocker, a researcher with the University of Southampton in the U.K, and his colleagues reviewed 14 reproductive studies, spanning over 40 years. They found a direct correlation between women who worked outside traditional 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. working hours and menstrual irregularities, higher rates of miscarriages, and fertility issues.
All of these findings indicate that healthier sleep habits are a good first step toward improving your chances of fertility.