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A healthy dose of sleep could lead to increased fertility.
Image: Unsplash

Gents: How much sleep do you get on average per night? Five, 6, 7, 8 hours? A 2013 Gallup poll found that 40% of Americans get six hours or less sleep per night, while 54% averaged between 7 and 8 hours. A measly 5% claimed to get nine hours or more per night.

Perhaps you’re wondering how this information could possibly be of interest to a urologist. Don’t we just care about what’s going on…down there? We certainly do pay attention to some bodily regions more than others, but the truth is that our bodies are one big system—and if one part of it gets out of whack, it can affect another, seemingly unrelated, part of the system.

It looks like sleep might be one of those things.

A recent research study by Lauren Wise, a professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, suggests that the number of hours you sleep each night may influence male fertility. In a study of 790 couples, Wise found a “sweet spot” of sleep in association with male fertility—between 7 and 8 hours per night. Less than 6 hours or more than 9 hours of sleep resulted in a 42% lower probability of pregnancy.

Even after considering factors such as age, body mass index, frequency of intercourse, and other known fertility factors, the association found between the amount of sleep and probability of pregnancy held up.

However, Wise noted that while the study found an association between sleep and male fertility, that doesn’t necessarily prove a cause and effect relationship. More research is needed to further explore this association and go beyond some of this study’s limitations—such as considering sperm count or the presence of other physical or mental health conditions that could correspond both with irregular sleep patterns and lower fertility rates.

Wise’s research is still considered preliminary, as it has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but the findings are certainly worth exploring. Dr. Peter Schlegal, the vice president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, is hopeful about the information this new study provides.

“There is very little data about how men’s sleep may affect fertility,” he said. “We know any stress can affect fertility for both men and women. This study strongly suggests that for men, aiming for the 7 to 9 hours of sleep helps to optimize their fertility and their chances of contributing to a pregnancy.”

It will likely be years before we more fully understand the relationship between sleep and male fertility—but in the meantime, it certainly doesn’t hurt to try to practice good sleep hygiene.

Research shows that insufficient sleep can lead to higher risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and even stroke. Of course, it also impacts our ability to function on a day-to-day basis, as anyone with a sleep disorder will tell you. Too much or too little sleep has also been linked to conditions such as diabetes, obesity, headaches, back pain, and depression.

Having trouble hitting the sleep “sweet spot”? Try these simple steps to improve your habits and quality of sleep…and maybe even your fertility, too!

  1. Eat Better. Ever gone to bed and had trouble sleeping because your belly is rumbling and your heart’s a-burning? Listen to your body: skip the jalapeños, rich burgers, and green bell peppers for dinner and instead have a lighter meal earlier in the evening. Try to avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol as well; instead, try just having a glass of water with dinner.
  2. Set the Stage. Your bed is for sleeping in, and perhaps (hopefully) some other occasional nighttime activities. Beyond that, try to limit what you do in bed. Ditch the laptop and Netflix for a non-digital book or journal, with the lights adjusted to that special “romantic” setting. Try unplugging from technology before turning in, as some research has suggested screens before bed make for poor-quality sleep later.
  3. Make it a Date. Would a friend or significant other be upset if you arrived an hour late to dinner or a coffee date? You bet they would! Treat bedtime and mornings like a date with your body—and stick to that schedule every day if you can. Only switch it up for extenuating circumstances, such as if you are struggling to fall asleep or need the extra shut-eye to recover from illness.
  4. Leave the Naps for the Kiddos. If you’re a nap lover, this one might be tough, but the truth is that long naps make it hard for your body to get a good deep sleep at night. Try to limit naps to 30 minutes during the mid-afternoon. Of course, if you’re a night-shifter, your schedule will be a bit different.
  5. Regular physical activity can help promote better sleep, so try to include some sort of exercise in your daily routine. While some people find that exercise at night helps them fall asleep easier, others find that it energizes them too much. This clearly varies from person to person, so experiment to see what the best solution for you is.
  6. Be Mindful. Surprise—stress impacts sleep quality! If you’re feeling stressed, working to reduce that stress will help you get better sleep. Whether it’s meditation, yoga, journaling, taking breaks, meeting up with friends once per week, or even just getting more organized, find small ways to release some of that tension.
  7. Ask for Help. If you consistently have sleep issues that are causing a larger impact on your quality of life, reach out to your doctor to see if there are any underlying causes.