Your natural circadian rhythm is responsible for a host of healthy body functions. When this system is disrupted, you are at risk of more than simply being tired. As more facts about the body’s sleep and wake cycles are revealed, scientists have established a relationship between circadian desynchrony and fertility.
Why is the circadian rhythm important, what happens when it is thrown into chaos and how does this affect your reproductive system? Here’s what you need to know.
What is the Circadian Rhythm and Why is it Important?
Nearly all living organisms have a natural circadian rhythm. Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that is always cycling between different stages of alertness, drowsiness and sleep. This sleep-wake cycle is what helps to regulate your sleep patterns.
This master clock is located in the brain’s hypothalamus. As it receives light signals from the eye, the information is transferred to the brain in order to perform a series of pertinent bodily functions. The circadian rhythm relies on sunlight for regulation, sending signals to the brain to release the hormone melatonin when sunlight wanes and it is time to wind down and start the sleep process. During the morning light, the internal signals reduce melatonin production to encourage a state of alertness.
Most of the body’s functions also operate according to the circadian rhythm. Disruptions to this master internal clock can send the body into a state of chaos. In addition to the sleep cycle, the circadian rhythm also regulates hunger and many functions related to hormones.
What is Circadian Desynchrony?
Circadian desynchrony is a condition in which the circadian rhythm is disrupted. This desynchronization occurs between the internal sleep and wake rhythms and the natural light and dark cycle. Individuals who experience circadian desynchrony present with a combination of insomnia at night and/or excessive fatigue during the day.
In order to treat circadian desynchronization, the body clock needs to be realigned so that it is in tandem with the earth’s light and dark cycle. Circadian desynchrony has been shown to lead to a variety of biological disruptions in the cardiovascular, reproductive and metabolic systems.
Circadian desynchrony is most often the result of altered or inconsistent sleep schedules. This happens frequently with shift workers who do not have a consistent schedule. Repetitive jet lag issues can also lead to circadian desynchrony. External factors that throw the circadian rhythm off include abuse of alcohol, hypnotics, and other types of stimulants.
How Are Circadian Desynchrony and Fertility Connected?
One of the ways that circadian desynchrony can disrupt the body is through the reproductive system. While the relationship between circadian desynchrony and fertility in females has been studied in detail in the past, it is only recently that scientists have begun to look into how desynchronization may affect male fertility.
A recent study involving over 1,300 Chinese men at a reproductive age looked at the relationship between circadian desynchrony and sperm count. As part of the study, 17 semen and hormone biomarkers within groups of rotating and permanent shift workers were compared against those of individuals who worked a consistent schedule.
The results of the study demonstrated that although the total sperm count in permanent shift workers was not significantly different than those individuals who worked a regular day shift, the sperm count was significantly lower in the rotating shift workers. The promising news is that the study concluded that the damage may be partially reversible if the circadian desynchrony decreases.
How Can You Keep Your Circadian Rhythm Synchronized?
There are a number of things that you can do to help keep your circadian rhythm regulated. Here are a few ideas to boost circadian synchronization.
Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule
You will encourage a healthier circadian rhythm if you keep a consistent sleep schedule. This means trying to go to sleep and wake up at the same general time each day.
Get Outside in the Morning
While it may be tempting to take that afternoon nap when your energy levels dip, this may end up doing you more harm than good.
Limit Caffeine, Alcohol, and Heavy Meals Late in the Day
If you want to ensure that you fall asleep quickly and stay asleep, you should limit your consumption of caffeine, alcohol and heavy meals late in the day. While you may fall asleep more quickly after drinking alcohol, you will be more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to fall back asleep. A heavy or greasy meal can cause heartburn or digestive issue that prevents you from sleeping soundly.
Skip Blue Light
You are not alone if you stare at a screen before falling asleep. However, the research is clear that this exposure to blue light can wreak havoc on your circadian rhythms.
While there is still a lot to uncover about the effects of a chaotic circadian rhythm on your physical and mental health, it is clear that desynchronization can have negative effects on the reproductive system and overall fertility in both men and women.