Set Your Circadian Clock:
Yet Another Role for the Bedroom in the Treatment of Infertility
We all know the bedroom is important in the fertility process – but not only for the reason you think. Birds and bees aside, another act takes place in the bedroom that is essential for optimal reproductive function: getting a restful night of sleep. Researchers have known for years that shift work (working nights or rotating day/night shifts) is associated with depression, obesity, breast cancer, menstrual irregularity, endometriosis, infertility, miscarriage and pre-term birth. Now the advent of electronics, backlit reading devices, 24 hour on demand cable, and the overall increased pace of life have put us at risk of chronic sleep deprivation.
The importance of restful sleep for optimal fertility cannot be overlooked. Here are some key facts about sleep and fertility:
The Circadian Clock allows all living beings to anticipate regular, repeating events that happen about the same time each day. In mammals “clock genes” found in two master endocrine glands, the hypothalamus and pituitary, control this rhythm. Hormonal signals from the clock genes in the master glands speak to clock genes in other parts of the body, instructing them how to function in response to the time of day. Our reproductive system is directly tied into the circadian rhythm.
The action of the clock genes is driven by three major input sources:
Light: Research shows individuals re-set their sleep/wake rhythm to match the light and dark patterns around them.
Time: Our cognitive reaction to schedules, clocks and work patterns is strong and can override our natural sleep rhythms.
Melatonin: Melatonin is a hormone secreted from the pineal gland that helps regulate our body’s sleep/wake cycle (circadian rhythm). Melatonin is derived from another important hormone, serotonin. It is produced in response to retinal signals and can cause marked drowsiness. Melatonin rises in the evening and lowers towards dawn.
A good sleep pattern should allow you to fall asleep easily in the evenings and wake up feeling refreshed. If this is not your experience you may not be getting the hormonal and restorative benefits of restful sleep and a natural circadian rhythm.
So what can the sleep-challenged among us do? It is possible to reset your sleep rhythms naturally. The following strategies can help:
- Try to go to sleep and get up the same time every day, even weekends. Staying up late on Friday and Saturday night makes it hard to hit the hay early on Sunday evening and makes the alarm on Monday seem way to early.
- Try acupuncture. Acupuncture has been shown to help improve sleep quality and to relieve insomnia. Acupuncture has other benefits for reproduction so it’s a win/win.
- Cut out stimulants like caffeine and nicotine as well as alcohol. While alcohol may seem to help you fall asleep it can drastically impair sleep quality as the night goes on.
- Exercise daily, outside if possible. Exercise ensures that our body and mind are fatigued when we lay our heads down at the end of the day.
- Get outside, sit as close as possible to the window at work and turn off (or radically dim) that e-reader you use before bed. Exposure to natural light is a wonderful way to reset the circadian clock. Spending too much time inside, exposed to artificial light is disruptive to our natural sleep/wake cycle.
- Try yoga. Creating a gentle stretching regimen can help you release tension and stimulate your body’s rest, digest and nest signals. Gentle yoga and breathing techniques can help you transition from your hectic life to restful sleep.
- Consider a melatonin supplement. Melatonin is considered a safe, well-tolerated nutritional supplement and can help with sleep. In addition, studies have shown benefits of melatonin supplementation for male and female fertility. Melatonin alone will not reset the clock but, in conjunction with the strategies above, may help in the retraining process.
- Try a meditative visualization once you have lied down to fall asleep. Imagine a string coming out of your body and solely breathe to the string. If your mind gets side tracked, catch yourself and say/think “I am supposed to be breathing to the string.” By solely concentrating on this, your breathing will slow down and you will enter into a very relaxed state of mind. As a result, it will be easier to fall asleep.
- Gamble, K. Frontiers in Endocrinology, volume 4, article 92.
- Eryilmaz, O. J Assist Reprod Genet. Sep 2011; 28(9): 815–820.