For a couple of decades, my menstrual cycle was like clockwork. Every 28 days without fail (except during pregnancy/breastfeeding). It didn’t really matter what I ate, how much I slept or exercised, or how much sunshine I frolicked in. My body just did its thing no matter how much I failed to take good care of it. But, alas, this body of mine ain’t what it used to be. Now that I’m in my thirties, my menstrual cycle is a lot more sensitive to environmental factors.
During last year’s drama, my cycle was cut short by a few days nearly every month. I thought it was just the stress. As I healed and gained weight, my cycle slowly returned to its 28-day norm.
When my period arrived two days early this week, I was a little confused. Wait a second, I thought… Didn’t my body heal from all of that craziness? Then I remembered that I had spent many nights last week staying up past 1:00 a.m. working on my new website and doing research. I’ve been extremely sleep-deprived. That reminded me how I spent months last summer experiencing medicine-induced insomnia. This was fortunately the only side effect I really noticed from my medication, but it was horrible. Maybe the sleep-deprivation had been a big contributing factor to my wacky menstrual cycles last year?
All of this got me wondering… is there a link between sleep and fertility? I started digging and found a whole lot of information I wanted to share. If you’re trying to get pregnant and you’re finding your cycles less than regular, here are some things that may bring your body back in balance.
1) Get Better Sleep
My suspicions were right on… there is a link between sleep and fertility:
When researchers polled women in notoriously sleep-deprived professions — flight attendants and nurses working the late shift — half of the women reported irregular menstrual cycles (compared to about 20 percent of the general population). Some stopped ovulating altogether. (Source)
I think it’s safe to include “mother” in the list of “notoriously sleep-deprived professions,” no? I’ve learned that in order to ovulate properly, your body needs normal levels of a hormone called leptin. And in order to produce normal levels of leptin, women need adequate sleep. If you’re sleep-deprived, your leptin levels are probably out of balance, and this could interfere with your fertility.
Sleep also impacts the other substances involved in the female hormonal dance: progesterone, estrogen, luteinizing hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone. So, in short, if you want to get pregnant, you need to do whatever you can to normalize your sleep schedule, especially if you’re over 30, like me. At the AZ Holistic Living Conference, Sarah McLean emphasized that sleep is the number one way our bodies reduce stress and detoxify the body, mind, spirit, and emotions. I definitely need to work on this one.
2) Harness the Power of Light
This one is tied to #1. Part of getting your body into a healthy sleep and hormonal rhythm includes utilizing the normal rise and fall of light exposure. “According to Dr. Daniel Kripke, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Diego, it has been shown that bright light corrects menstrual irregularities” (Source).
You can regulate your body’s leptin response, in part, by doing as this site suggests: “Get outside during the day, preferably barefoot on the ground, in mid-day sun with some skin exposed.” And I would add, if possible, get yourself to the beach! Sun and sea (i.e. vitamin D and magnesium) will do your body good. One study with female rats showed a 75% decrease in fertility among those with vitamin D deficiency. Sunlight exposure during the day followed by minimal light in the evening should improve the quality of your sleep and help regulate your hormone levels.
3) Prime Your Pineal Gland
This one is tied to both #1 and #2. The pineal gland, located inside the brain, is responsible for regulating hormone levels in relation to our exposure to sunlight. A poorly functioning pineal gland could be contributing to fertility problems in some couples. When the pineal gland is functioning properly, our sex hormones, emotions, sleep, and spiritual lives will benefit. (Some believe the pineal gland is, actually, the “third eye” and our connection to the spiritual realm.) You can read more about the roles the pineal gland and melatonin play in fertility here.
Unfortunately, modern life and its attendant chemical overload can wreak havoc on the pineal gland and disrupt our body’s delicate balance of hormones. We can improve the health of our pineal glands in a variety of ways:
- Avoid ingestion of fluoride. Fluoride will harden and calcify the internal walls of the pineal gland, disrupting its natural functions.
- Choose organic foods, when possible. Reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals of all varieties will benefit your pineal gland and overall health. Organic vegetables also contain higher levels of magnesium and calcium which assist the body in removing heavy metals and fluoride.
- Chlorella, spirulina, and cilantro may further aid the removal of mercury, fluoride, and other toxins.
- Meditation may also benefit the pineal gland.
4) Alkalinize Your Body
Dr. Randine Lewis outlines the importance of balancing the body’s pH levels to promote conception. In her book, The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies, she explains, “Acidic cervical mucus may become hostile to sperm, which requires an alkaline environment to survive” (Source). Most fruits and vegetables (with a few exceptions) are alkalinizing, so they will promote a pH environment more friendly to sperm. Fruits and vegetables are also loaded with antioxidants which promote overall health and help to protect the reproductive organs from stress. Antioxidants have also been shown to improve male fertility by promoting sperm health (also, magnesium levels are lower in the semen of infertile men). You can read more about the benefits of alkalinizing (including possibly reducing morning sickness) here.
For many women struggling with fertility, it may be that a few simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference. At the same time, it is likely that some women will be fertile no matter what they do, and some women will be infertile no matter how healthy their food and lifestyle choices are. Sometimes it’s simply out of our hands. Even if the tips above don’t lead to conception, they should lead to greater health. And that’s something we can all benefit from.