Could night shifts be taking their toll on your sperm health? Whilst most of us make like Dolly Parton and work 9-5, millions of people worldwide work nights. Many of these people work in sectors that keep our country running – from paramedics to police officers, trainer drivers to delivery people – but this nocturnal way of working can have an impact on your physical and mental health, and even your fertility.
Here we’ll break down the effects of night shifts on the body and the ways you can support your health if your job keeps you up all night.
Sleep and Male Fertility
Sleep is an underestimated cornerstone of our overall health, so it makes sense that a lack of sleep could impact our fertility.
When we sleep, whilst we may be resting, our body is still hard at work. This is the time when cells regenerate and repair, nerve cells communicate and reorganize and hormones are produced – including testosterone.
Because sleep and testosterone production are intrinsically linked, it makes sense that a lack of sleep can have an impact on your fertility. A Danish study found that men who get 8 hours of sleep a night were almost 3 times more likely to have healthy sperm compared to men who got less than 7. Interestingly, another study indicated that having over 9 hours of sleep each evening could also harm sperm health parameters.
It’s clear that for optimum health and fertility, we want to be getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Any sleep expert will tell you that the best way to get a healthy sleep routine is to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning – but where does that leave people that work night shifts?
Impact of Night Shifts on the body
To understand the far-reaching effects of working night shifts, we have to talk about our circadian rhythm.
The Circadian Rhythm
Our circadian rhythm is the natural cycle of physical, mental, and behavioral changes that we go through in a 24-hour cycle – and is largely driven by light exposure. Whilst there is a lot more going on behind the scenes (hormonal fluctuations, complex brain activity) the easiest way to think about the circadian rhythm is that when we are exposed to natural light our body and brain are more alert, and when it’s dark outside our body responds to that and wants to rest.
How Night Shifts Affect Your Health
When working night shifts you are battling against your natural circadian rhythm. You’re forcing your body to be awake and alert at the time it wants to rest and restore and this can have a negative impact on your physical and mental well-being.
Many night shift workers struggle to maintain a healthy weight and this might be disturbing your circadian rhythm impedes the production of leptin hormone which is involved in appetite levels and your metabolism. This can lead to an increased risk of diabetes as well as obesity.
A changing sleep routine can also impact blood pressure and blood circulation, which can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular conditions.
Lastly, it’s no surprise that night workers report a poorer quality of life and a negative impact on their mental health. This could be down to a lack of sleep and increased levels of fatigue but there are also other factors at play – including missing out on a social life and time with family as well as a lack of exposure to sunlight.
Night Shifts and Male Fertility
It’s clear that night shifts aren’t great for our health – so it makes sense that they aren’t the biggest ally in a fertility journey either. Research indicates that men who work night shifts are more likely to report issues with erectile function and symptoms of low testosterone. It also uncovered that shift workers were more likely to have lower sperm counts.
The study also found that night shifts had a bigger impact on these issues than smoking or alcohol – although more studies are needed to confirm this claim.
How To Support Your Body If You Work Nights
The fact is that night shifts are not ideal for your health or your fertility, but if your job means they are unavoidable there are a few things you can do to reduce the negative impact.
- Have a strict night shift sleep routine – Try to go to sleep as soon as possible after your shift finishes and block out 7-8 hours for undisturbed rest. Make sure you eat something before you go to bed so you’re not dealing with hunger pains and make sure your bedroom is as calm and quiet as possible.
Control your light exposure – If you’re working night shifts you need to trick your body into a synthetic circadian rhythm. Ways you can do this are by exposing yourself to as much light as possible during your shift and decreasing the amount of light you see once work is finished – wearing sunglasses on your journey home is a great tip that researchers found helps night shift workers get off to sleep faster!
- Follow a healthy diet – If you’re lacking good quality sleep and exposure to natural light, you need to make sure your body is being fuelled with lots of vitamins and nutrients – especially if you are on a fertility journey. Try to avoid sugar and instead snack on fruit and vegetables throughout the time you’re awake.
- Use caffeine wisely – It might be tempting to drink coffee throughout your shift to keep you awake, but this could make it hard for you to get good quality sleep when you get home. Research has shown that drinking 2-3 cups of coffee a day has little impact on sperm health, so save them for before you start your shift.
- Make time for exercise – It might be hard to find time to work out if you are on a run of night shifts, but exercise will have a positive impact on your energy levels as well as your fertility. It will also help to counteract the slowing metabolism you may experience due to a lack of leptin hormone.
If you’re concerned about the impact night shifts could be having on your fertility, testing your sperm could give you peace of mind – or the information you need to make improvements. Learn more about our at-home male fertility test here.