Stress and sleeplessness are the plague of modern society.
But does stress, shift work or lack of sleep affect your fertility? The answer is a resounding YES. I will show you how, why and what you can do about it below.
Stress and Sleep: How Relaxation Can Boost Your Fertility Article Includes:
How can stress affect fertility?
Does stress affect male fertility?
How to reduce stress when trying to conceive
Does meditation help fertility?
Can lack of sleep affect your fertility?
Does Shift work or night shift cause infertility?
Can lack of sleep cause low sperm count?
Lifestyle changes to improve fertility
How Can Stress Affect Fertility?
Stress and anxiety can affect your fertility, and in extreme cases it can cause you to be completely infertile.
Stress and infertility research is a growing area, with some of the latest research saying:
Women who report feeling more stressed than usual during their ovulatory window were 40% less likely to become pregnant that month (1).
Sarah Berga, who heads the department of gynecology and obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine, studied women who had stopped ovulating for more than six months. They found that they all had high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.
In stressful situations, cortisol, like adrenaline/epinephrine, pushes your metabolism into high gear; sustained high levels can raise blood pressure, cause weight gain, and lead to other health problems including infertility.
In a small study by Berga published in 2003, seven out of eight participants who received stress management therapy began ovulating again versus two out of eight who got no help.
Cortisol decreases the monthly surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) which is responsible for triggering ovulation.
It is also made from the same precursor as progesterone, one of the major female reproductive hormones.
When we’re under stress, our bodies can have a hard time keeping up with the demand for cortisol. To make up for the shortfall, our body will begin to steal this hormone away from the progesterone production line and shunt it into making more cortisol.
Stress also increases insulin resistance which in turn further disrupts sex-hormone balance and causes weight gain and inflammation.
Does Stress Affect Male Fertility?
YES. The stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) can cause huge oxidative damage if they are left running around in your blood stream for long periods.
This occurs when you are constantly under perceived pressure at work, in relationships, over tired, unwell or engaging in chronic-cardio exercise like marathon running.
Oxidative stress has been shown to be a major cause of male infertility; a large proportion of infertile men have elevated levels of seminal reactive oxygen species (ROS aka oxidation damaging little blighters).
High concentrations of ROS cause loss of sperm motility and viability. L-carnitine, a naturally occurring antioxidant, which has been shown to help protect sperm from this oxidative damage.
How to Reduce Stress When Trying to Conceive:
- Use your partner for support. Now is the time to act as if you are dating again. Set aside time during the week to go to a movie. Take a dance class together. And put a time limit of 20 minutes or so on pregnancy discussions.
- Check your attitude. Thinking “everybody else gets pregnant so easily” only causes more stress. Try some positive coping statements: “If getting pregnant was so easy, there wouldn’t be fertility clinics.” Recognize any pessimistic thinking and switch it out for some positive thoughts.
- Get a journal. Writing stuff down gets it out of your brain, and helps you to process it. It’s a way to off-load concerns you feel uncomfortable sharing with others and can give you insight you may not have had before.
- Keep busy. Keep doing other things, otherwise the pregnancy project becomes your sole focus. Whatever your passion is, indulge it.
- Work on relaxation. One easy way is to spend time once or twice a day coaxing the body into a state of deep relaxation. Take five minutes or so to close your eyes and transport yourself to a far-off destination, a mini-mental vacation. Allow yourself to experience all the senses of your surroundings, and your body will respond as if you are actually there.
- Keep moving. Walking, swimming, yoga, or other moderate exercise may take the edge off stress, and it has additional health benefits of course. Higher-energy workouts like running or jogging stimulate the release of feel-good endorphins. However too much exercise for women who are already stressed, can make matters worse, since exertion triggers the release of cortisol.
- Get individual counseling or group support. A woman struggling to get pregnant needs someone who can empathize with her. Counseling can be an outlet for feelings of confusion, sadness, and frustration.
- Fix the root cause. Sometimes this isn’t realistic, but if there is anything you can do to reduce the stress causing factors in your life. DO IT. Maybe you need to look for a new job, maybe you need to move house, talk to the person causing the issue or ease up on your expectations of yourself.
Does Meditation Help Fertility?
Humans have two overall states-of-being that are controlled by the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic system that controls all of the automatic things like breathing, balance, blood pressure, hormone release and your heart beating.
These two sub-systems are: the sympathetic nervous system (flight/ flight/ freeze) and the parasympathetic nervous system (rest + digest).
When you are in the flight/flight/freeze state, your cortisol, prolactin and adrenaline levels are high. If you live chronically in this state it will cause inflammation and disease. It also stops you from ovulating properly, this is because being chased by a bear is no time for this body to get pregnant.
In this state of panic, your body conserves energy in case you need it to run or survive and your whole body goes into minimal-maintenance-only mode, not lets-make-and-grow-babies mode.
This panic mode was only ever supposed to be short to medium term – running from a tiger, fighting a battle or occasionally surviving a famine.
Sadly the way we live these days is so full of stress. There is a bear around every corner, and on the other end of the phone, and in the bosses office.
And once we have finished with the bears at work, there are the ones on the road in the other cars on the way home, at the checkout at the store and calling your cell. Then when we have finally finished for the day, we sit down and watch scary, stressful bears on TV in the evening.
We cannot and do not get away from this constant state of alarm, fear and trepidation.
The ONLY way science has found to switch your body from the fright/flight/freeze system to the more relaxed, normal-state-of-being rest and digest system is by deliberately extending your outward breath (2).
The best best best way of relaxing your body and encouraging it to do what it should be doing, is to spend some time each day being aware of your breath.
Breath in 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. Now slowly breathe out 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 pause. Now repeat a few times.
Meditation can be as simple as taking 20 deep breaths with purpose (like you just did) OR mediation can be a complex long guided journey. Either is fine, and either works. You just have to find what works for you.
There are some pretty cheesy fertility mediations on Youtube.com, but they can be helpful to give you something positive to focus on.
It is something I have seen time and time again, what you concentrate on will happen. Positive thinking will go a long way towards helping your fertility. I do not understand how, or why this works, and I know it sounds like airy fairy nonsense. But it works.
The Benefits of Meditation for Fertility
- Meditation Reduces Cortisol Levels
- Meditation Reduces Insulin Resistance
- Meditation Improves Sex Hormone Balance
Can Lack of Sleep Affect your Fertility?
Yes and no.
In the short term, no. A few late nights here and there will not affect your fertility. But long term chronic sleep deprivation will definitely reduce the chances of getting pregnant.
Getting a good night’s sleep helps refresh and restore your brain and organ systems, and regulate important hormones in your body – including your fertility-related hormones.
- In both men and women, the same part of the brain that regulates sleep-wake hormones also triggers the daily release of reproductive hormones.
- The hormones that trigger ovulation in women and the sperm-maturation process in men are tied into the body’s sleep-wake patterns.
Does Shift Work or Night Shift cause Infertility?
Sadly yes. Many of the permanent night shifters and shift workers in general that I have worked with over the years have had trouble getting pregnant. Me being one of them. It was only after 4 weeks in a “normal” job that I managed to get pregnant after 3.5 years of trying. Coincidence? maybe, but I don’t think so.
Our bodies rely on the daylight/darkness pattern to regulate our serotonin and melatonin production. These are our awake and asleep hormones.
Sleep also helps regulate our other hormones and allows our bodies to repair damaged cells. Leptin is a hormone that links sleep and fertility.
It affects ovulation, in order for leptin to be produced adequately, women need to get enough sleep. If women are not getting enough sleep, their menstrual cycle may be disrupted.
Some other fertility hormones affected by sleep include progesterone, estrogen, LH (luteinizing hormone) and FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone).
Basically if your sleep habits are out of whack, chances are your hormones are too.
Can Working Night Shift Cause Miscarriage?
Sadly yes. Night shift increases the risk of miscarriage. The risk is only slightly higher than for women who don’t work nights, but it is still increased (4)
Working night shift can also increase the risk of complications in later stages of pregnancy such as pre-eclampsia, fetal growth restriction and pre-term birth.
HOWEVER, miscarriages aren’t usually caused by things like working a night shift or even working long hours. Early pregnancy loss is most commonly caused by several factors related to genetic abnormalities of the fertilized egg, autoimmune disorders and structural abnormalities of the uterus.
Can you Still get Pregnant Working Night Shift?
YES!! Just because it can be more difficult for some, does not mean it will be impossible for you.
Can Lack of Sleep Cause Low Sperm Count?
Yes. And given how much poor sleep affects hormones, it is no wonder. A recent Denmark study showed the rather large impact that poor sleep habits have on sperm count (3).
Lifestyle changes to improve fertility
There are so many thing that you can do to improve your lifestyle so that you are as fertile as you can be.
- Put yourself first for once. Although the optimal amount of sleep is about 8 hours on average, requirements vary from person to person and somewhat from season to season.
- Get outside. Aim for an hour or more out in sunlight each day, even if you have to split it up into smaller chunks of time. If time or weather constraints force you to stay indoors, use a light box, a portable unit that allows you to get light even while indoors and is often used for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
- Eat well. A good quality fertility diet will go a long way towards supporting your body to make all the right hormones.
- Supplement well. There are a variety of supplements, vitamins and minerals that will help your body make the right hormones to ensure you are as fertile as you can be.
- Get off the shift work roster. There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that late night and overnight work schedules are associated with menstrual irregularities, reproductive disturbances, and risk of adverse pregnancy complications. If you must do shiftwork, be vigilant about getting sufficient rest when you are at home.
- Keep your sleep and wake time consistent. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps keep your day / night hormone cycle regular.
- Meditate. Before bed, avoid paying bills, reading books or watching movies with troubling storylines, and any other activities that could keep your mind racing rather than relax into a peaceful sleep.
- Make it dark, make it red. Adjust your lighting. Turning down dimmer switches and using low-wattage bulbs in the evening are helpful for someone who has trouble falling asleep. Use something like f.lux on your computer to dampen the blue light.
- Ditch the caffeine. If you do occasionally indulge, limit your use to more than 5 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid melatonin supplements. There is a risk of suppressed fertility and even gonadal atrophy in people who take melatonin supplements, so they are best left on the shelf if you are trying to get pregnant.
- Be honest about sleep disorders. The National Sleep Foundation offers symptom lists and self-evaluations to help you identify sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and restless legs syndrome.
Stress and Sleep: How Relaxation Can Boost Your Fertility
Stress is plaguing modern society. Don’t be it’s next victim! Find time to put yourself, your sleep, your peace and your partner first.
Have a long hard think about ways you can reduce stress in your life, and boost your fertility and balance your hormones while you are at it. Your body and your mind will thank you for it!