One of the key secrets to improving your fertility and overall health is to make sure that you are getting enough sleep. Deep sleep not only restores your health but also reduces stress. In our busy lives one of the things that gets short changed is sleep!
The quantity and quality of our sleep affects our health, mood, concentration, hormones, and fertility. One of the hormones that affects fertility is leptin, which affects ovulation. Leptin is released by our fats cells and sends a signal to our brain to stop eating when we are full and feel satiated. Leptin production is reduced when there is lack of sleep and therefore, low leptin levels can disrupt ovulation and also cause weight gain.
Studies have also shown that shift care workers have a harder time getting pregnant because their menstrual cycles are disrupted because their circadian rhythm (normal sleep/wake cycle) is in constant chaos. The circadian rhythm is our body’s own internal clock which regulates the production of our hormones. Two specific hormones which are affected adversely by lack of sleep are cortisol and melatonin.
Let’s discuss cortisol first as it is a very important hormone. Cortisol is produced by the adrenal glands in time of stress to helps us combat a stressful event. For this reason, it is often called the “stress hormone”. If stress is constant or extreme, chronically elevated cortisol creates chronic inflammation that eventually causes premature aging and earlier death. Elevated levels of cortisol cause sleep disruption and hormonal imbalances. Some other effects of elevated cortisol are:
- Lower immunity
- Poor concentration/decreased mental focus
- Weight gain, especially around the waist and upper abdomen
- Loss of muscle tone
- Reduced growth hormone, testosterone, DHEA, and estrogen
- Diabetes, cancer, and heart disease
Sleep is essential for proper cortisol balance and if this balance is continually interrupted the risk of inflammation and other chronic disease is increased.
The second important hormone to discuss is melatonin. Melatonin is released by the pineal gland in the brain at night in order to prepare our body to sleep restfully. There is new research that shows that melatonin also plays a role in fertility. Melatonin protects a woman’s eggs from “oxidative stress” by acting as an antioxidant for the ovaries, preventing cellular damage, and removing free radicals. Healthy melatonin levels are crucial to fertility and adequate sleep helps promote good quality eggs. Eight hours of sleep at the same time every night is essential for optimal fertility. In addition, it is important that sleep not be interrupted by artificial light at night, as artificial light can affect the way our body produces melatonin. When the pineal gland senses light it stops producing melatonin. So even the light from cell phones, TV’s, tablets, and lamps, can decrease melatonin levels and less melatonin means less protection for a woman’s eggs.
Below are some tips to help you maximize your sleep:
- Avoid all caffeine and substances that are caffeinated after 2pm. Remember, decaffeinate tea, chocolate, green tea, and regular tea also have caffeine in them.
- Cardiovascular exercise is useful in promoting sleep, however, if it is done too close to bed time (within 2-3 hours) it may keep a person up. So, time your exercise appropriately.
- Establish a consistent sleep routine. Go to bed at about the same time every single night. If you are a shift care worker put a plan in place to help you obtain a consistent sleep cycle. This may mean working at the same time every night.
- Turn off all electronic devices about an hour before bedtime. This means shutting off or dimming cell phones, computers, tablets etc. The light emitted from these devices may keep you up so be sure to dim or shut these devices off. It is not recommended that you read from these devices right before bedtime.
- Regulate your sleep environment. The temperature of the room, back ground noise, the bed, and your pillow may all affect your sleep. Try to make your bedroom as inviting and comfortable as possible. Your bedroom should be as dark as possible. Black out curtains or eye shades may help dim the light that comes through windows.
- Try meditating or try a sleep mediation to get rid of stress and anxiety. You may also want to try deep breathing exercises to help you relax before bedtime. Initiating a sleep ritual that helps you wind down and relax can help promote sleep.
- Try not to nap late in the afternoon as this may keep you awake at night.
- Avoid heavy meals right before bedtime.
- If you have trouble sleeping contact a sleep professional and get a sleep study to see why you are having problems.