Effects of sleep deprivation
Difficulties conceiving is one of the possible physical effects of sleep deprivation (affects both sexes). We'll explain the sleep and fertility connection, plus how light and darkness affect our hormones.
You may not realize that appropriate sleep patterns are just as critical to the body as proper nutrition and regular exercise!
Sleeping is often overlooked as just a means of rest when we're tired, but there's a lot that goes on biologically when tucked in under our sheets! A consistent lack of sleep can have detrimental consequences on us physically and mentally.
If you're trying for a baby you need to look into your lifestyle as a whole.
Fertility is heavily influenced by our overall health. Therefore it's worth investigating the effects of sleep deprivation and how this can impact your chances of conception.
Why do we need sleep?
During sleep certain hormones are released which allow the body to - rejuvenate, grow, repair damaged cells/tissue, and stimulate the immune system.
If we don't get enough sleep we're increasingly prone to stress, sickness, and disease, as damage accumulates.
How much sleep do we need?
The number of hours sleep we need on a daily basis varies from person to person depending on genetics, age, and our current state of health. We need more when we're sick.
For an adult most health professionals recommend seven to nine hours sleep per night.
We should wake up feeling refreshed and ready to face the day ahead. The best sleep is undisturbed, so that we can go through the normal sleep cycle. This includes an adequate deep sleep stage, which is when the body rejuvenates. Interruptions or frequent waking up during the night interfere with the whole process.
Common symptoms of sleep deprivation include feeling drowsy during the day, lack of energy, being clumsy, slow, and forgetful.
Studies suggest that oversleeping can also cause health problems. If you're prone to this, it's a good idea to visit your doctor to see if they can diagnose any medical reasons for your tiredness. Perhaps a change of lifestyle may be needed.
The circadian rhythm
The term "circadian" comes from the Latin words “circa” about, and “dia” day. We all have an approximate 24 hour bodily cycle called the circadian clock which is based within the hypothalamus (structure within the brain).
The major circadian rhythm involved is the sleep/wake cycle. This clock acts as the body's inner timekeeper, and is responsible for numerous biochemical functions to occur at specific times throughout the day and night.
The circadian clock controls our -
- Neurotransmitters – chemicals released in the brain which allow impulses to travel from one nerve cell to another
- Hormone production - chemical messengers
- Enzymes - which catalyze chemical reactions
- Body temperature
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate
- Plus many other important biochemical processes
Light and dark ultimately influence this whole rhythm. The optic nerves located behind our eyes are light receptors which send messages to the circadian clock. This occurs via the hypothalamus through to the pineal gland, which is also located in the brain.
Decreased light exposure stimulates the pineal gland to produce a hormone named melatonin which is secreted into the blood stream. This nicknamed hormone of darkness causes drowsiness and a drop in body temperature which lets us know when it's time to sleep. Amounts of melatonin peak around the middle of the night and then start to drop. Sunlight resets our circadian rhythm.
This cycle works along with a neurotransmitter named adenosine which is created during the daytime. When adenosine reaches a certain level this also promotes sleep, and suppresses many bodily process we associate with being awake.
Cortisol (steroid hormone) also plays a role within this biological clock. The adrenal gland where this hormone is produced is also controlled by the hypothalamus and information regarding the dark light cycle. Highest levels are present in the blood during the early morning (approximately 8.am) with lowest levels being around 12-4am (3-5 hours after onset of sleep). One major role of cortisol is increasing blood sugar. The body needs glucose (blood sugar for energy) when we wake up.
Alterations to this cycle can upset numerous aspects of how the body should normally function.
Several studies have concluded that a power-nap (15-30 minutes) during the day doesn't effect normal circadian rhythm. This quick rest can help decrease stress, let the brain process information and improve productivity.
Fertility and sleep
Studies suggest that both male and female fertility health can be adversely affected by disrupted sleep patterns.
Regular disruptions with the day/night cycles can eventually contribute towards certain disorders of the reproductive system. Most hormone secretion is controlled by the circadian clock and sleep is one of the events that has a major impact on the daily rhythms and levels secreted. Good sleeping habits allow the body to re-establish those rhythms, thus helping promote the regulation of our reproductive hormones. The effects of sleep deprivation can also increase miscarriage risk or cause pregnancy complications.
Sleep also helps to keep our whole system healthier in general, which is always favorable for fertility levels. Low immunity can lead to an array of health complaints and illnesses. Male sperm counts can drop for three – four months after a bout of sickness (e.g. flu). Common medical problems associated with sleep deprivation can lead to fertility problems or infertility (as research has proven) – for example insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure, or increased stress.
Relationship difficulties are common when one partner is suffering from sleep loss. Sex drive can diminish - men are more prone to erectile dysfunction when exhausted, and women often experience vaginal dryness. Tiredness can also lead to fertility disrupting lifestyle factors, such as the overuse of caffeine or other stimulants.
We recommend for any couple planning for a baby in the near future to have a
check up with your personal physician. This can help identify any medical conditions that can interfere with fertility.
Health effects of sleep deprivation
Research has shown that either irregular/lack of sleep can be detrimental to our normal biological functions that we take for granted. Neurotransmitters in the brain become altered. With our inner timing disturbed this can throw our health into turmoil! This is termed as circadian rhythm disorder.
The side effects of sleep deprivation include a higher risk of -
- Impaired cognitive functions – more prone to making mistakes and having accidents
- Emotional instability – low seretonin (affects mood) and higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone)
- Hormonal irregularities
- Fertility problems and decreased libido (male and female)
- Lowered immunity, toxin buildup, and slower healing
- Weight gain – low levels of leptin hormone (appetite inhibitor) high levels of ghrelin hormone (stimulates hunger)
- Hypertension - high blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Insulin resistance and diabetes - blood sugar disorders
- Gastric problems and peptic ulcers
- Certain cancers - including prostate, breast, endometrial and colectoral
- Many other health ailments
This should emphasize the importance of sleep!
Recommended reading - sleep continued
Read the research - sleep study results regarding the effects of sleep deprivation on reproductive health. Their may even be a connection with some reproductive cancers. Find out the different causes of sleep deprivation, and what you can do to rectify your individual situation. A few changes may help improve your health, boosting your chances of conception!
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