Rest and self-reflection, sleep and your fertility

Author: Dr. Maryam Mahanian, DTCM, RAc

Why Sleep is so important to your Fertility

There are so many reasons why we should be making our sleep a priority, especially if you’re trying to fall pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy. Here are some reasons why sleep is so important from a Western medical and Chinese medical perspective.

Hormonal regulation:
Sleep helps regulate hormones in the body, including hormones that play a crucial role in regulating the menstrual cycle and ovulation. Some of these hormones include cortisol, melatonin, FSH, and LH.

Cortisol is a stress hormone that affects the menstrual cycle and ovulation.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and also has an effect on the menstrual cycle.

Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) is a hormone that regulates the growth and development of follicles in the ovaries.

Luteinizing hormone (LH)  is a hormone that triggers ovulation.

Disruptions to the normal sleep-wake cycle and inadequate sleep can negatively impact these hormones (and more hormones not mentioned here), which in turn can negatively affect fertility.

Stress management: Lack of sleep can increase stress levels, which can disrupt the delicate hormonal balance necessary for fertility.

Chronic stress can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones involved in the menstrual cycle and ovulation, leading to infertility. The stress hormone cortisol can interfere with the normal functioning of the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian (HPO) axis, which regulates the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), hormones that play a crucial role in regulating the menstrual cycle and ovulation.

Stress can also cause changes in the levels of other hormones involved in fertility, including prolactin, which can suppress ovulation, and thyroid hormones, which play a role in regulating the menstrual cycle.

In addition to hormonal changes, stress can also affect fertility through other mechanisms, such as causing changes in lifestyle habits that can negatively impact fertility, such as changes in diet, exercise, and sleep patterns.

It’s important to manage stress and seek support in order to maintain overall reproductive health and improve chances of fertility.

Immune system: Sleep helps boost the immune system, which is important for maintaining overall health and preventing infertility-related conditions. Here are some infertility-related conditions that stem from a dysregulated immune system:

Recurrent miscarriage – the repeated loss of a pregnancy due to various reasons, including immune system dysfunction.

Endometriosis – a condition in which the tissue that normally lines the inside of the uterus grows outside of it, causing pain, irregular periods, and infertility.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – an infection of the female reproductive organs that can cause damage to the fallopian tubes, uterus, and ovaries, leading to infertility.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – a hormonal disorder that affects ovulation and can cause infertility.Uterine fibroids – noncancerous growths in the uterus that can interfere with implantation and fertility.

Male infertility – a weak immune system can also impact sperm production and function in men, leading to infertility.

Inflammation: Chronic sleep deprivation has been linked to increased inflammation in the body, which can negatively impact fertility in several ways:

Hormonal imbalances – Inflammation can disrupt the delicate balance of hormones involved in ovulation, the menstrual cycle, and pregnancy. For example, chronic inflammation can increase levels of the hormone prolactin, which can suppress ovulation.

Damage to reproductive tissues – Chronic inflammation can cause damage to the delicate tissues of the reproductive system, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and uterus. This damage can interfere with normal functioning, such as ovulation, implantation, and fetal development.

Impaired sperm quality and function – Inflammation can also negatively impact sperm quality and function in men, leading to infertility.

Implantation difficulties – Inflammation can also cause changes in the endometrial lining, making it more difficult for a fertilized egg to implant and develop into a viable pregnancy.

Increased risk of miscarriage – Chronic inflammation can increase the risk of early pregnancy loss and recurrent miscarriage.

It’s important to address underlying causes of inflammation, such as infections, autoimmune disorders, and lifestyle factors, in order to improve overall reproductive health and reduce the negative impact on fertility. 

Low Energy:
Sleep helps restore energy levels, allowing the body to function optimally and support the process of fertility.

If you have low energy levels as a result of sleep deprivation, this may lead to decreased physical activity, which can then lead to weight gain which can disrupt the normal functioning of the hormones involved in reproduction. Low energy can also contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression, which can have a negative impact on fertility.

Overall, sufficient and consistent sleep is crucial for maintaining a healthy and balanced body, which is necessary for optimal fertility.

Chinese medicine perspective on how sleep deprivation impacts fertility

From a Traditional Chinese medicine perspective, sleep deprivation can impact fertility by causing imbalances in the body’s energy, or Qi. 

In Chinese medicine, sleep is considered a time for the body to rest, recover, and rejuvenate. When a person is sleep deprived, the body’s ability to maintain balance and proper functioning is impacted.

Sleep deprivation can also cause an imbalance in the body’s Yin and Yang, which are complementary and opposite forces in Chinese medicine. Yang represents energy and activity, while Yin represents stillness and rest. Sleep deprivation can cause a deficiency of yin. This means that the yang becomes overactive. leading to imbalances and disharmony in the body’s energy and functions.

Depletion of Kidney Energy

In terms of fertility, sleep deprivation can cause imbalances in the Kidneys, which are considered the foundation of life and reproductive health in Chinese medicine. The Kidneys are responsible for regulating the body’s energy, fluids, and hormones, and they play a crucial role in maintaining overall health and fertility, reproduction, and development. When the Kidneys are weakened due to sleep deprivation, the body’s ability to regulate the menstrual cycle, ovulation, and fertility is impacted.

Kidney Jing

We are born with a fixed amount of kidney essence, also known as Kidney Jing. You can think of kidney jing as a battery that runs out over time. How we live our lives, including our quality of sleep, will either make our kidney jing run out really quickly or preserve it. If we are constantly burning the candles on both ends, not sleeping well, overworking and not resting, we will run out of kidney jing pretty quickly. This contributes to premature aging, infertility, and other health conditions. 

In addition to these imbalances of kidney energy, sleep deprivation can also contribute to stress and anxiety, which can have a negative impact on fertility and overall reproductive health.

How much sleep should I get?

I recommend my fertility patients go to bed before 10:30 pm and have good sleep hygiene. This means staying away from screens for at least one hour prior to bedtime. Dimming the lights in your home for at least one to two hours before bedtime. It also includes reading a book, meditating, taking a bath, or anything else that relaxes and unwinds you. 

In Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), treatment for sleep deprivation and its impact on fertility involves a combination of acupuncture, customized Chinese herbal medicine, and dietary and lifestyle changes such as stress reduction and sleep improvement, to help restore balance and improve overall reproductive health.

If you struggle with falling asleep (or staying asleep), consider trying acupuncture and/or Chinese herbal medicine. 

How does Acupuncture help sleep?

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that involves the insertion of very thin needles into specific points on the body to balance the body’s energy, or Qi. Acupuncture can help regulate the body’s natural sleep patterns and promote better sleep.

There are several ways in which acupuncture may help improve sleep:

  • Reducing stress and anxiety – Acupuncture can help reduce stress and anxiety, which are common causes of sleep disturbances. By calming the mind and promoting relaxation, acupuncture can help improve sleep quality and duration.

  • Regulating hormones – Acupuncture can help regulate the body’s natural hormonal balance, including cortisol and melatonin, which are important for regulating the sleep-wake cycle.

  • Relieving pain – Acupuncture can help relieve pain, which can interfere with sleep and cause sleep disturbances. By reducing pain, acupuncture can improve sleep quality and duration.

  • Improving circulation – Acupuncture can improve circulation, which can help regulate the body’s natural sleep patterns and promote better sleep.

  • Balancing the body’s energy – Acupuncture can help balance the body’s energy and restore harmony to the body’s systems, including the nervous system, which plays a key role in regulating sleep.

Chinese herbal medicine for sleep

A couple of my favorite Chinese herbal formulas for sleep are zizyphis (by Golden Flower) or Gui Pi Tang concentrated granules. Having said this, know that everyone is different and has different constitutions. Because Chinese herbal formulas are customized to the individual’s Chinese medicine diagnosis/pattern, this is what makes Chinese herbs so effective. For example, zizyphis is meant for those who have restless sleep and wake often through the night, feel warm at night and have other heat signs. Gui Pi Tang on the other hand is meant for those who have difficulty falling asleep with blood deficiency signs like pale complexion, light periods, and fatigue. 

It’s time to take charge of your sleep and your fertility. Book an appointment with Dr. Maryam, see her online courses or reach out anytime for more fertility-related guidance. 

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