Expert / 2 November, 2021 / James Duigan
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.