WINTER FERTILITY TIP 3/4: WHY YOUR SLEEP IS VITAL FOR YOUR FERTILITY

Rest and Rejuvenate

Each season has its own unique qualities that affect our health differently. 

Summer is a high energy active time of year.

Winter is a low energy quiet time of year, where nature focuses on storing and recharging Qi (energy) – as I mentioned in an earlier post on rest and rejuvenation.

The key method for increasing and storing Qi is through good quality sleep.

Classical Chinese Medicine has discussed the health effects of sleep for more than 2300 years [1], and I’ll share some of these concepts with you here.

As the natural action of Winter is to slow things down and induce rest, it makes it the best time of year to deeply recharge your Qi. 

It is therefore a great time to get good quality sleep.

According to Li Liweng, a famous 17th century Chinese writer, sleep has the following effects:

“The secret of health preservation is first of all sleep.

It can regenerate the essence (your deep energy), improve health, invigorate the Spleen and Stomach (digestive system), and strengthen bones and muscles.

It is an ever-successful panacea that cures all diseases” [2].

To generate energy we normally need food or water, yet sleep can deeply recharge your energy without any extra nutrients being consumed.

The ancient Chinese believed that this happened by us ‘connecting with heaven’ and recharging our life every time we sleep. 

Note: Heaven here is not the Christian concept of heaven, but one that relates to nature and it’s forces.

Whenever people are ill, there is a natural inclination to sleep, and this relates to our sleep’s ability to recharge and rebalance our health.

Negative Effects of Poor Sleep

Too little sleep, including poor quality, reduces your Qi (energy).

Qi is the foundation of all of your body functions, including all of the systems that relate to your fertility health.

The weaker the Qi, the weaker your body function or activity is, which means that your body can’t work as efficiently as it should.

Too little Qi over an extended time will cause a Qi deficiency, and this can be at the root of many general and fertility health problems. 

Getting the right amount and regularity of sleep, particularly in winter, allows us to build reserves of Qi for the coming year – optimising your fertility health.

Modern medicine has attributed a lack of sleep to a variety of health issues including:

  • Obesity 
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Depression
  • Reduced immune function 
  • Reduced sex drive
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Reduced fertility [3]

This clearly shows that getting the right amount and quality of sleep is vital for positively supporting your health.

As sleep disruption alters hormone balance, it also plays a significant role in your fertility health – both for women and men.

A lack of sleep, and going to bed later, has been found to be directly connected to fertility issues according to the CDC [3].

Men that reduced just one week of sleep to 5-hours or less per night significantly reduced Testosterone levels [4].

Men that slept less through choice or sleep issues, over the long-term, had on average 29 percent less sperm than those who slept longer [5].

As we are unable to clearly assess female egg health, we can assume on the basis of changes in sperm health, that female eggs will react in a similar way.

The Best Time for Sleep

Sleep is necessary for your body to remove waste and old cells, rebuild new cells, fight infections, heal, and recharge your energy. 

All of this is difficult to do during the day when you are strongly active and using energy.

According to Chinese and western medicine, these processes happen best at night – following the natural circadian rhythm.

The circadian rhythm is a cycle that is based on the rise and setting of the sun, which is also the foundation of the Yin/Yang cycle of Classical Chinese Medicine.

The ancient Chinese used the Yin and Yang concept to identify the best time of day and year for sleep, and also activity.

This enabled them to optimise their health by following the daily and seasonal cycles, making use of the highs and lows of energy provided by the sun. 

They also recognised that this sun cycle is essential to all life.

The nature of Yang is activity, brightness and warmth and these qualities relate to daytime and summer – that stimulate living things into action and activity.

The nature of Yin is stillness, darkness, and cold, and these qualities relate to nighttime and winter – that cause living things to ‘shut down’, become quieter and want to sleep. 

As Yin creates this natural desire to rest, we can make use of the Yin time of day and year for recharging our Qi.

The Yin starts to become more strongly dominant in a 24-hour cycle when the sun sets, and darkness begins. 

The Yin becomes more strongly dominant in a yearly cycle when autumn ends and winter begins. 

These changes in day and time of year indicate that we need to slow down, and get ready to rest. 

A typical bedtime of between 9-10pm is best to balance with this natural circadian and yin/yang cycle.

And the best time to increase your general sleep pattern is in winter, the Yin time of the whole year.

Several studies have found that people who went to bed later than average, had more negative, disruptive thoughts, depressive symptoms and stimulated mind activity compared to those who went to bed earlier [6] [7].

Many studies have also found that an earlier bedtime may protect against mental illness. 

The key thing is that you must have a regular pattern, and this pattern should ideally be based on the circadian rhythm [8].

As the sun sets earlier in Winter, and rises later too, we should make adjustments to our sleep pattern compared to how we sleep in Summer.

The Chinese sleep principle in Winter is: 

Go to bed early, and sleep long. Ideally, get up when or after the sun rises.

Key Sleep Tips

There are a series of actions that you can take to make sure that you get sleep at the best time of day, and that it’s the best quality you can get.

The better the quality, length and timing of your sleep the more supportive it will be of your fertility health.

As Winter belongs to the Yin time of the year (cold, dark, still) it’s a great time to put an extra focus on sleeping well. This will lay a great foundation for your fertility health in the coming year.

Here are the key principles to follow:

  • Go to bed as early as you can. 

In winter 9-10pm is good, and sleep as late as you can.

  • Aim for 7-8 hours a night

Different seasons will dictate different amounts of sleep needed.

Typically most people need around 7-8 hours of sleep, at the right time of night, for most of the year. In summer it’s okay to sleep a little less.

As soon as Autumn begins we should start to sleep a little earlier again.

  • Prepare your mind. 

If your mind is racing, or too active, you will struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep. Calming your mind before bed can help this.

Reduce exposure to things that make you think more, such as work, emails, loud noise, bright lights, blue-light devices (phones, tablets, computer screens) and anything that stimulates thinking.

Consider some Stillness Meditation an hour before going to bed.

  • Avoid eating too close to bedtime.

Plan meals earlier in the day and don’t eat anything big within 1-2 hours before going to bed.

A light soup or bone-broth may be okay, but if it’s too fatty this can disturb sleep patterns too [9]

  • Washing your feet

If you suffer with cold feet at night, and you have an active mind or find it hard to get to sleep, you can use a foot bath to help.

Place your feet in warm water for 10-15 minutes before going to bed.

  • Sleeping position

Sleeping on the side is thought to be best, and Chinese medicine has quoted this since at least the 7th century.

The chosen side is not of importance, other than when pregnant where sleeping on the left side is thought best to avoid stomach reflux.

Studies on rats has shown that sleeping on the side may help the brain detoxify more efficiently.

  • Pillows

General consensus is that your pillow should not be too high.

Spend time trying different types of pillows to find the optimal height and density that makes you feel comfortable.

The feeling of the pillow-case can also play a role in how your head and face feel, whilst getting to sleep.

  • Temperature

Although Chinese medicine is focused on avoiding getting cold, it also recognises that a bedroom that is too warm is too stimulating.

As I mentioned above, nighttime is the Yin time, which is a cooler time of day.

Make sure that your bedroom is comfortably cool so that you can properly relax and sleep deeply.

Airing the bedroom for a few hours before sleep can help control the temperature and also provide sufficient fresh air into the room.

Regardless of your room temperature, always make sure that you are comfortably warm to ensure the best sleep.

That pretty much sums up the key areas to consider with sleep.

Remember that Winter is a time of rest and rejuvenation, so give yourself permission to indulge in early nights, reading, watching movies and generally relaxing and taking it easy!

Keep all new projects for spring, when the sun provides us with renewed energy and lifeforce to start growing and expanding into the new year.

 

References:

[1] Huángdì Nèijīng – The Yellow Emperors Classic, 475-221 BC

[2] Collected Works of An Old Man with A Bamboo Hat, Li Yu (1611-1679)

[3] Centre for Disease and Control

[4] Leprout R and Van Cauter E (2011). Published in The Journal of The American Medical Association, vol 305.

[5] Jensen TK et al (2013). Published in the American Journal of Epidemiology vol 177.

[6] Nota JA, Coles ME. Duration and Timing of Sleep are Associated with Repetitive Negative Thinking. Cognitive Therapy and Research. 2014

[7] Blum ID, Zhu L, Moquin L, et al. A highly tunable dopaminergic oscillator generates ultradian rhythms of behavioral arousal. Elife. 2014

[8] Phillips AJK, Clerx WM, O’Brien CS, et al. Irregular sleep/wake patterns are associated with poorer academic performance and delayed circadian and sleep/wake timing. Scientific Reports. 2017

[9] American Academy of Sleep Medicine. ‘Caloric INtake Negatively Influences Healthy Adults’ Sleep Patterns’. Science Daily, 12th June 2008


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