News & Views

How Lack of Sleep May Affect Fertility

By Zach Pearl, PhD Staff


Sleep is a critical component to one’s physical and emotional health and well-being. Increasing evidence suggests a role for sleep in women’s health, particularly in the context of the menstrual cycle, fertility, pregnancy and menopause; male fertility has also been shown to be negatively affected by lack of sleep 1 2 .

So how does sleep deprivation affect fertility outcomes?

Three main effects are attributed to sleep dysregulation 1 2 3 4 .

  1.  Hormonal Imbalance – in both men and women, the same parts of the brain that regulate sleep-wake hormones (such as melatonin) also trigger the release of hormones involved in reproduction [such as Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Prolactin, Testosterone, Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH) and Progesterone].
    Extensive evidence has shown that lack of sleep resulted in high levels of TSH causing anovulation, recurrent miscarriages, amenorrhea (absence of a menstrual period) and menstrual irregularities, elevation in LH and FSH resulting in low ovarian reserve (decrease in number of eggs in the ovary), reproductive aging, etc.
  2. Stress – lack of sleep may cause stress and vice versa, resulting in hormonal imbalance. Studies have shown that stress-related progesterone secretion may increase the risk of abortive responses.
  3. Compromised Immunity – circadian clock is a regulatory gatekeeper of immune response and inflammation and its dysregulation, by lack of sleep, is detrimental to early pregnancy and obstetrics outcomes such as recurrent pregnancy loss, preterm birth and others. Furthermore, lack of sleep is associated with a host of additional chronic diseases that may affect fertility and pregnancy such as PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and others.

What is the role of Melatonin in Fertility?

Over the past 40 years, the role of melatonin and reproduction was defined as complex, mostly due to conflicting data in animal studies. However, in recent years, it has been clearly demonstrated that melatonin is essential for both folliculogenesis (development of ovarian follicle) and spertmatogenesis (process of the sperm cells development). It has been implied that melatonin takes part in the control of pubertal onset, timing of ovulation, sexual maturation and pregnancy protection and that it has potential utilities in menopausal medicine as well.

In addition, melatonin is a natural antioxidant, a free radical scavenger, protecting body and brain cells against genetic damage. It is speculated that its anti-oxidant activity may help with infertility treatment, which are associated with significant levels of reactive oxygen species which have the potential to negatively affect the quality of oocytes and embryos.

What can be done to reduce the impact of sleeplessness on Fertility?

Because sleep and daylight are integral to our biological clocks, it’s important to get sufficient amounts of both. It is recommended to honor your personal sleep needs, as well as consistent sleep and wake time, keep stress-less by avoiding working at odd hours and mind-boggling activities, optimizing sleep environment (including lighting) and avoiding stimulants.


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