Many of us know that long term sleep deprivation comes with a number of side-effects such as anxiety,depression and even heart failure. However, what many of us don't realize is that insomnia can also affect our sex drive and even our fertility.
Though very little research has been undertaken to investigate the relationship between sleep and fertility, a study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews set out change this. Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center and Drexel University found that sleep influences fertility in three key ways:
Exerting stress on the body affects reproductive hormones, menstruation, and it can even interfere with follicle development. Since insomnia can produce stress responses in the body, it makes more sense that insomnia may also have a relationship with fertility.
Sleep dysregulation (fragmented sleep, inability to stay asleep and short or long sleep duration) is not always down to stress, though. Our sleep can also be disrupted by non-stress related conditions such as restless leg syndrome.
Your immune system
Sleep deprivation may also trigger inflammatory responses in the body, which can affect the immune system. Studies show that those with insomnia are more likely to have compromised immune systems compared to healthy sleepers.
Interleukin-6, a chemical produced in the body wherever there is inflammation, has been found to play a role in unexplained infertility. Based on the studies, women with infertility were found to have higher IL-6 levels compared to fertile women.
Sleep quality and quantity influences a number of hormones that are involved with reproduction and fertility. Fertility-related hormones have their own 24-hour cycle that is largely influenced by sleep. Disruption to our body clocks has been associated with negative reproductive outcomes, with shift work in particular being found to affect the secretion of reproductive hormones. As a result, sleep issues such as insomnia can interfere with the hormonal environment required for successful conception.
In particular, when our sleep cycles are disrupted, so too is the body's production of melatonin.
Although melatonin has long been known as an important hormone for regulating our general sleep cycles, it is becoming clear that it also affects our reproductive systems. In fact, in the 1990s, melatonin was singled out as a potential contraceptive due to its potential to inhibit ovulation. Interestingly, women taking oral contraceptives have been found to have higher levels of melatonin in their bodies.
Insomnia affects male fertility, too
A Danish study found that male fertility is also affected by disrupted sleep.
Researchers found that men who reported the highest levels of disturbed sleep had a 29 percent lower concentration of sperm in their semen and** 1.6 percent fewer normally structured sperm** compared to men who slept better.
Why does our body appear to make conception more difficult when dealing with insomnia? One theory suggests that it ties in with insomnia’s role as a natural response to a real (or perceived) threat. Normal levels of anxiety are built in to our natural defense system to alert us during a potential threat or in times of fear. Along with other physical and emotional symptoms, sleeplessness can occur. Within this theory, somnia may also serve as a biological cue to suppress fertility.** But when symptoms such as anxiety or insomnia happen at the wrong times, our fertility can also become negatively affected.**
If you're struggling to get pregnant and suffer with insomnia, now is the time to speak with your doctor.
Jensen, Tina K., et. al. "Association of Sleep Disturbances With Reduced Semen Quality: A Cross-sectional Study Among 953 Healthy Young Danish Men." American Journal of Epidemiology. April 7, 2013. Accessed April 14, 2016.
Kloss, Jacqueline D., et. al. "Sleep, Sleep Disturbance, and Fertility in Women." Sleep Medicine Reviews. October 17, 2014. Accessed April 14, 2016.