If you’re trying to become pregnant and you have a sleep disorder, your odds are higher that you’ll experience more infertility issues than those who don’t have sleep disorders.
A study from Taiwan published late last year in Sleep focused on sleep disorders other than sleep apnea to understand their potential impacts on fertility in women.
Sleep apnea isn't the only problem
They investigated unspecified sleep disturbances, insomnia, hypersomnia, circadian disruptions, dysfunctional sleep architecture, movement disorders of sleep, and other nonspecific causes of sleep disorders (which could include second-hand sleep disorders).
Historically, sleep apnea is the sleep disorder most researched for its negative impact on women’s fertility. The relationship between untreated sleep apnea and an inability to become pregnant is well understood and chronicled in previous research.
However, this latest research, while eliminating sleep apnea as a variable in the study design, still found that women with other kinds of sleep disruptions are still as likely to struggle to achieve conception when compared to peers getting healthy, adequate sleep.
Would-be mothers need to recognize the risk factors of insomnia. It was found to be highest on the list of sleep disorders to blame for fertility problems.
Details on the Taiwan study
The study examined the data of almost 17,000 women who were diagnosed with sleep problems between 2000 and 2010. Their data were compared to that of a second group of women (over 33,000) who didn’t have sleep problems.
Subjects fell into an age range of between 20 and 45 years, and were followed up after five years of observations regarding fertility.
Aside from age, the presence of other medical problems was an area the research was able to unpack more specifically. After all, other medical problems besides sleep disorders can have a big effect on fertility.
Specific conditions identified in the study include obesity, mood disorders, COPD, cancer, stroke, and others.
It’s also acknowledged that sleep disorders can lead to other medical problems, and vice versa.
In the Taiwan study, women with sleep disorders were also found to struggle with hypertension, high cholesterol, kidney issues, lung disorders, mental health concerns (depression and/or anxiety), irregular menstrual cycles, and/or thyroid issues.
After screening subjects for medical problems that existed independently of sleep disorders, the study’s subject population who struggled with sleep was still found to be nearly 3 times more likely to experience infertility.
When considering both age and other medical problems together, however, that incidence rate was found to increase to nearly 4 times the likelihood of infertility.
More research is needed
Lead study author Dr. I-Duo Wang of the Tri-Service General Hospital and National Defense Medical Center in Taipei pursued this new evidence to identify more fully the range of sleep problems which can interfere with the desire to become pregnant.
Wang suggested in a Reuters report that “[w]omen of child-bearing age should sleep earlier, avoid night shift work or cellphone use before sleep,” as well as other healthy habits like exercise and healthy eating to improve chances for conceiving.
Other factors that were not considered in the study include fertility-affecting behaviors like smoking, drinking, exercise habits and independent variables like family history and socioeconomic status, suggesting more research is needed to further isolate sleep disorders as direct causes of infertility.
The study authors acknowledge this, explaining that their research was ultimately designed to open up the discussion about sleep disorders (other than sleep apnea) which may also play a significant role in becoming pregnant.
The ultimate takeaway? These important insights into relationships between poor sleep and fertility suggest that women of child-bearing age who want to bear children would benefit from address their sleep health issues to improve their chances of conceiving. If you're struggling to become pregnant and you have trouble sleeping, now's the time to attend to your concerns. Therapies for the sleep disorders identified in the study include cognitive behavior therapy for insomnia (CBT-i), changes in sleep hygiene (such as consistency in bedtimes and rise times), avoidance of certain substances like caffeine and alcohol, and other general lifestyle improvements like regular exercise and healthier diet.