09/15/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sleep Linked to Infertility

Correction: Sleep-deprivation linked to infertility. (I had a feeling that would get your attention.) Did you ever consider that? How could you with all the other things to worry about:
You've cut down on alcohol, caffeine, and even processed food.

You've scheduled more time to relax and tried to reduce the stress in your life.

You've started a consistent exercise routine and detoxified your house.

You've charted your monthly cycle, bought ovulation kits, and still...nothing.

But you've overlooked one very important element: sleep, which you don't get enough of.

The word "infertility" can quickly generate a response, especially among the 10 percent (more than 6 million) of women struggling with it. The topic routinely graces the covers of magazines and academic health reports.

Lately, the talk about toxins in our food, water, and air have been blamed for increasing the likelihood of infertility. But what if it's much simpler than that? What if infertility can be partly blamed on how many hours of sleep you get a night. OR hours you don't get?

A new report puts the spotlight on exactly this issue. The highlights:

  • Missing your required number of sleep hours a night can impact your ability to conceive.
  • The average woman (30 to 60 years old) gets only 6 hours 41 minutes of sleep during the work week, according to the National Sleep Foundation, when she really needs 7 to 9 hours.
  • Sleep has a powerful influence on the body's hormonal system, which controls a woman's cycle and regulates ovulation.
  • Too little sleep leads to low leptin levels, the hormone responsible for appetite and which can impact ovulation.
  • Insomniacs have a significantly higher level of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenocorticotropic, both of which can suppress a healthy fertility cycle.

The take-home message is clear: you could be doing "everything right" when it comes to preparing your body to conceive and bring a healthy baby to term. But with so much focus on external factors like your environment and what you put in your mouth, the time has come to add another aspect to this big equation: sleep.

All the healthy, pure food in the world and all the attention to getting your body into tip-top prenatal shape won't cure a hormonal system gone awry from missing sleep. So if you're thinking of having a baby, put sleep on the list. At the top. And if you're going to worry about your environment, remember to also think about the one in the bedroom.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor

This article on sleep and infertility can also be found at Dr. Breus's official blog, The Insomnia Blog.