Expert / 2 November, 2021 / James Duigan

Can Stress Make It Harder To Conceive?

Falling pregnant is not always a walk in the park, and with many of us having babies later in life, the average time it takes to conceive gets longer as we get older which can be frustrating. What we wanted to know was whether those feelings of frustration and stress can actually have an impact on our ability to conceive. We turned to world-renowned wellness guru James Duigan, author of The Clean and Lean Pregnancy Guide for advice on fertility and stress. 

For years, studies have been showing that stress is linked to fertility – which can lead to a vicious cycle of feeling stressed that you’re not getting pregnant, then worrying that stress is making the problem worse. People will say things like, ‘Don’t worry about it and it will just happen.’ They’ll then go on to tell you about their friend who went on holiday or who decided to adopt a baby and who then fell pregnant straight away because they had ‘stopped worrying about it’.

Although well meaning, this sort of advice can be very frustrating and yet the truth is that stress and fertility are inextricably linked, that’s why I’ve included it here. However, rather than giving you tips on de-stressing, I think it’s far more useful for you to know about how lifestyle changes can help with stress.

Foods that reduce stress

  • Berries are full of vitamin C, which allows the body to cope better with stress. They’re also full of fibre, which helps to regulate blood-sugar levels (these can fluctuate when we’re stressed).
  • Green vegetables – dark green vegetables help to replenish our bodies with vitamins in times of stress.
  • Turkey contains an amino acid called L-tryptophan, which releases serotonin (a calming, feel-good hormone) into the body. Eating turkey has a soothing effect on the body and can even help you sleep better.
  • Sweet potatoes will satisfy a carb craving (common during stressful times, because blood-sugar level swings cause us to crave sugar fixes) and also contain more fibre and vitamins than ordinary potatoes.
  • Avocados – all the good fat and potassium they contain can lower your blood pressure (which rises during times of stress).
  • Nuts help to boost an immune system weakened by stress, plus they’re full of B vitamins which help to lower stress levels.

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Foods that increase stress

  • Coffee – too much caffeine stresses out your system by constantly flooding your body with the fat-storing hormone cortisol. Stick to one or two cups of organic coffee a day.
  • Alcohol stimulates the adrenal glands – two tiny glands that sit just above our kidneys and pump out the stress hormone adrenaline. Studies have also shown that alcohol reduces fertility in both sexes, so if you’re trying to get pregnant, cut right back or, ideally, stop drinking altogether.
  • Sweets and sugary snacks give you a quick burst of energy, but then they cause your blood-sugar levels to crash, leaving you feeling sluggish, stressed and lacking concentration.
  • Processed foods are full of so much junk that they deplete the levels of vitamins and minerals in your body, leaving you more prone to stress.
  • Junk food – studies show that foods that are high in bad fats (burgers, chips, kebabs, etc.) lower your concentration levels and increase your stress levels.
  • Salty foods increase your blood pressure, which makes you more prone to stress. The worst offenders are processed meats like ham, bacon, and others which are full of salt.

Sleep yourself less stressed

Sleep (or a lack of it) and stress often go hand in hand. When we’re stressed, we find it more difficult to sleep, and when we’re tired, we feel more stressed – it’s enough to make you need a nap! I can’t stress enough just how important it is to have sufficient sleep – especially if you’re trying to get pregnant and thinking about your fertility. Good restorative sleep is as crucial to brain function and health as are oxygen and water. However, many of us think we can get away with skimping on sleep as we pack more and more into our busy lives. Technology doesn’t help matters and neither does the current trend for associating being busy with being important.

Many of us these days are working longer hours than ever and travelling more. And while all these things can enrich our lives to some extent, they can also take their toll on our health, if we’re not resting enough. One study from the University of Chicago has found that not sleeping enough can mimic ageing – put simply, your body ages prematurely if you don’t get enough shuteye.

So – want to know how can you sleep better? Read on.

Sleep smarter…

Turn off your technology. Too many of us are ruining our sleep with technology – and I for one am guilty of this. It’s easy to waste a whole evening browsing mindlessly on our iPads, phones or laptops when we could be exercising, seeing friends, having a conversation with our partner or relaxing in a nice bath. Technology was designed to save us time, but it robs us of time and this can leave us feeling stressed. It can also delay bedtime. Plus, the flickering light from screens stimulates our brains in a way that makes falling asleep afterwards more difficult.

Limit the time you spend using technology in the evenings and do something more relaxing instead. If you don’t browse on your phone for an hour before bed, your sleep will automatically become deeper and leave you feeling more refreshed in the morning.

Avoid caffeine

This is so obvious I can’t believe I’m saying it, but so many of us forget about the sleep-robbing effects of caffeine. Never, ever be tempted by a 4pm latte. No matter how immune you think you are to the effects of caffeine, it will disrupt your sleep. It interferes with the way the body processes the enzyme adenosine that causes us to feel drowsy and fall asleep and so results in wakefulness. Lack of sleep in turn causes you to feel more stressed the next day and, ironically, more likely to rely on caffeine and so the cycle continues. Remember, it’s also found in regular tea, green tea, soft drinks, chocolate and certain medications (see p. 14).

Add a few drops of lavender oil to your evening bath

You’ll fall asleep more easily. There’s a reason why sleep experts tell mums to bathe their babies before bed to help them sleep better – soaking in warm water helps us to fall into a deeper sleep, according to several studies.

Stick to a routine

Try to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day, even at weekends. Our sleep-wake cycle is regulated by our circadian clock – a type of internal alarm clock that reminds the brain when to release sleep and wake hormones and when not to. Keeping consistent sleep time strengthens this clock, and you’ll sleep more soundly as a result.

Don’t argue, worry, eat, drink alcohol or smoke…

You shouldn’t be doing either of the latter anyway, if you’re trying to conceive, but try not to do any of these too close to bedtime.

Keep your bedroom for sleep and sex

Sex, by the way, promotes better sleep! Orgasm releases the hormone prolactin, which leads to feelings of relaxation and sleepiness and results in a good night’s sleep. Furthermore, dopamine and oxytocin are also released and these create a feeling of wellbeing, which also leads to a restful sleep.


Too many of us take our technology to bed. Keep phones, and iPads and laptops out of the bedroom!

Taken from Clean and Lean Pregnancy Guide by James Duigan. Published by Kyle Books, priced £12.99.


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