Sleep, your 24-hour body clock and IVF by Mel Brown

By Mel Brown

Sleep, or rather the lack of it can have a really profound effect on our hormones, as well as our ability to combat stress and boost our immune systems

And for sure, going through fertility treatment ticks all these boxes.

And to face the challenges of IVF you have to be in peak health. How you sleep and in particular how much and when you sleep really matters.

Our 24-hour body clock, or circadian rhythms form the framework for how many of our hormones, brain chemicals and body functions work. This ‘Master Clock’ in the brain controls a huge number of functions and if we try and work ‘outside’ it by not getting enough good quality sleep, everything will go pear-shaped. During sleep is when we restore and repair cells, or destroy malfunctioning ones.

The sleep hormone melatonin is released at night and this acts as a powerful antioxidant, mending our cells, our eggs, for example. In fact, research has shown that taking melatonin during an IVF cycle may improve egg quality. And lack of melatonin may also be the reason why workers who routinely work night shifts are believed to literally age prematurely.

Research has shown that regularly working night shifts increases irregular menstrual cycles, time to conceive and miscarriage. And although specific research into how this affects IVF is a bit vague, it seems there may be a link with a reduced number of eggs collected. You can see how disruption to our 24-hour clock affects your period when you travel across time zones, flying to Australia can put your cycle out by several days.

So how does messing with your body clock affect trying to conceive?

Well, some of our reproductive hormones are under direct circadian control. In men testosterone levels are higher in the morning so perhaps a man should perform his sample for egg collection in IVF always in the morning first thing. And for this reason, when trying naturally sex in the mornings is a good thing too.

Luteinising Hormone (LH) is also under circadian control; this is our hormone of ovulation and this may matter less during IVF itself but if you are trying naturally while waiting for IVF then it sure does matter. That LH surge is what pushes the egg out of the follicle for the waiting sperm. And what is left of the follicle becomes the Corpus Luteum which produces the precious progesterone that keeps a pregnancy going when an egg is fertilised.

Lack of sleep, accompanied by stress affects uterine receptivity, raises TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone which has to be below 2.5 for IVF) and may even increase TNF alpha, a key inflammatory cytokine involved in immune-related reasons for infertility.

So, what can we do?

Well, factoring sleep as an important part of your lives (both partners) is essential.

Often it just gets lost in the general chaos of normal life. You get back from work late, by the time you cook a meal and catch up a bit with your partner its already late, you watch TV, you fall asleep on the sofa. You hit your bedroom, but you check your Facebook, Instagram or e-mails first, or you go to bed with Netflix on your laptop. And lo and behold it’s 11.30pm and you have to be up at six, so you panic and then it takes ages to get to sleep. And oh no, you’d forgotten you’re about to ovulate and need to have sex, hurry up then, be quick. You know the scenario, enough to induce a panic attack. Sleep is not easy.

A good sleep plan is in order

It begins with sleep hygiene (official name for preparing your body for sleep). Arrange with your partner to be in bed by a certain time that allows for half an hour of something;  sex, reading, meditating, whatever. You want to have about seven to eight hours of sleep a night. You can have a warm bath with some lavender oil or magnesium salts to help relax you. Don’t watch anything stimulating or sad or frightening just before sleep. I advise my clients to read a good book, or just look at the pictures in Hello or Grazia.

Make sure your bed is warm but your room is cold. We have evolved to sleep at night in the cold. Keep light and noise away, use wax earplugs or Bose earbuds (cheap to very expensive) to block noise and blackout blinds or curtains to keep street lamps and daylight out. Keep all screens out of your room. The blue light emitted by screens mimics daylight and suppresses melatonin which normally switches on with darkness. Evening light is warm and orange, night time is dark, and then morning light is blue again, which switches off melatonin and all the night time hormones and brain chemicals. This is the order of the body clock. I am a big fan of using a light lamp to wake up to, a blue light that mimics daylight and wakes you up slowly and naturally in the morning.

Then walk a bit to work if you can, 15 to 20 minutes outside in daylight. You can also use a desktop light lamp at work for 20 minutes in the morning if you take ages to wake up, or if you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). And try to eat your evening meal as early as you can. Digestion slows down at night and this can keep you awake. Evening TV snacking is not to be recommended.

And you can catch up with your sleep at the weekend which is great. But try not to sleep in on both days as this will reset your body clock making it hard to re-adjust again on Monday. Sleeping properly will hugely help how you manage your IVF.

Do you have trouble sleeping? Why not try out some of these great tips and then let us know how you get on? Email

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