Sleeping well is the cornerstone of health. Our bodies do all sorts of amazing things when we sleep that we aren't aware of. Unless you are that unlucky woman I read about last week whose sleepwalking was so bad she went down a flight of stairs and broke her back. (She's recovering, don't worry, I'm not that ghoulish.) Anyway, one of the things that happens when we are asleep is that our hormonal system gets to work in a major way. So sleep, or lack of, can have a huge impact on our hormonal system - and if you are a woman and know even a tiny bit about how your body works, then you know that the menstrual cycle and fertility are part of this picture. But how? And why is sleep a factor?
Well, hello endocrine system. The endocrine system is the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, sexual function, reproduction, sleep, and mood, among other things. These glands include the pituitary gland, the thyroid and parathyroid glands, adrenal glands, pancreas, and ovaries and testicles. So, you know, kind of crucial. And it has a complex response to sleep.
While sleeping, the secretion of some hormones increases, while some are inhibited. Fertility hormones affected by sleep include progesterone, oestrogen, luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). One key hormone affected is leptin, which affects ovulation, and women need adequate sleep for optimal leptin production.
Now of course there can be many reasons you find it hard to sleep, or to sleep well. Stress in our daily lives - whether external (e.g. work or family life) or internal (i.e. drinking a bucketload of coffee, an ice-bucketload of wine, or eating too much sugar) - can wreak havoc, as can things like taking our smartphones to bed.
The British Acupuncture Council have done the hard work for me and you can see a factsheet here which highlights the research that shows acupuncture can be effective in treating sleep disorders. But to quote: "On the evidence that we have, given that acupuncture appears to be at least as effective as existing conventional drugs, without their level of side effects, it could be considered as one of the therapeutic options for insomnia."
There you have it. As effective as drugs. Less side effects. So if you are worried that the quality of your sleep is affecting your ability to get pregnant, or you are embarking on IVF and are not a great sleeper, think about seeing an acupuncturist.
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