Testing Sleep on Your Fertility Journey: Why and How
Last updated: March 22, 2023
Sleep impacts reproductive health, in both men and women. Understanding exactly how your sleep is impacting your reproductive health and - more importantly - figuring out what steps to take can be tricky. Wearables like Apple Watch and Fitbit can give you some idea, but since they are general-purpose devices, the data can be unreliable, action steps nonexistent or unclear.
At-home sleep tests, built specifically for gathering and analyzing sleep data at home, can be a valuable tool on your fertility journey. As we adjust to the daylight savings time, let's take a look at sleep tests in the context of fertility - and our top 5 questions to help you pick the one that fits your need the best.
Sleep problems are common
Sleep problems are extremely common. In the United States, epidemiological studies estimate that 35-40% of adults have problem falling asleep or daytime sleepiness. Another type of sleep problem, obstructive sleep apnea, is also common, affecting up to 1 in 5 women and almost 1 in 3 men.
Sleep duration and quality both impact reproductive health
Getting not enough quality sleep each night has been linked to a wide variety of health problems, including cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, immunological and psychological conditions. For men and women on the TTC journey, getting enough quality sleep is particularly important, as studies have linked it to better chances of pregnancy.
For example, an analysis of over 117,000 couples found an association between sleep duration of both partners and their chances of conception. This is still an emerging area of research, but studies have pointed to possible mechanisms:
- disruptions of male and female reproductive hormones;
- interference with melatonin’s antioxidant protection for eggs and sperm; and
- changes to menstrual cycles and ovulation.
Sleep can be pushed aside when you have a ton of competing demands placed on your time. (And let’s be honest – many of us can relate.) A part of the solution is to simply decide that sleep is a priority and – importantly – something else will have to be left undone. In some cases, though, there’s more to sleep problems than our go-go-go lifestyle.
How do you know you may have a sleep problem?
Although there are several different types of sleep problems, symptoms often overlap, and include the following:
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Unintended changes to your sleep/wake schedule
- Unusual movement, speech or other behaviors during sleep
- Fatigue and sleepiness during the day
- Psychological problems like irritability, anxiety, depression or difficulty concentrating
- Unintended weight gain
How sleep problems are identified and diagnosed
When you suspect you may have a sleep problem affecting your health and quality of life, the first stop is typically your PCP. They may refer you for a sleep test to identify the exact problem(s) affecting your sleep. Traditionally, sleep tests have been done in a sleep laboratory, where you’d sleep with monitoring equipment that measures things like oxygen levels and electrical activity in your brain.
Are there at-home tests for sleep?
A sleep test in the lab is a powerful tool to assess the duration and quality of your sleep, but it has obvious downsides:
- It takes you out of your regular routine, which may skew your sleep test results;
- Sleep test at a lab is inconvenient and logistically difficult to repeat multiple times to understand trends; and
- It can be quite expensive, especially if your insurance coverage has a high out-of-pocket cost.
At-home sleep test to the rescue.
Recently, several companies have come out with at-home sleep test devices that allow you to assess the quality of your sleep without having to go to a sleep lab, sleep in an unfamiliar bed or wear uncomfortable, wire-strung devices.
If you are considering at-home sleep tests to support your TTC journey, it’s important to choose the right one for your needs, because these at-home tests are designed differently with different purposes in mind.
We should also note that while sleep lab tests can provide medical diagnoses, some at-home sleep tests are focused on wellness and quality of sleep, without making medical diagnoses. This may or may not be a problem for you, though, depending on what you are trying to accomplish.
How to choose an at-home sleep test
Here are the 5 questions to ask when evaluating if a particular at-home sleep test is right for you:
- Specific vs. broad: Does the sleep test specialize in detecting a specific problem (like sleep apnea) that I’m particularly concerned about, or do I need a test that can pick up a broader range of sleep disturbances?
- Medical device or not: Do I need an FDA-cleared medical device, or am I okay with one without FDA clearance as a medical device, as long as it has solid research and technology behind it?
- Help from sleep specialists: Will a sleep specialist help me interpret the test results and guide me on improving my sleep? Or will I be given a report that I have to decipher myself?
- One-time test vs. monitoring trends: Do I want a one-time test to identify a sleep problem and give me insight into the quality of my sleep, or do I want periodic monitoring to assess my progress?
- Reproductive health focus: Can the at-home test assess my sleep status in the context of my reproductive health and give me actionable advice on improving sleep?
For men and women on the TTC journey, the last question may be the most important. Currently, only one at-home sleep tracking and improvement service, called Wesper, an Ovaterra partner, connects sleep quality to reproductive health. If you or your partner are experiencing symptoms of sleep issues on your journey, it may be worth considering Wesper, other at-home sleep tests or a discussion with your doctor.
Talk to your doctor about sleep issues
One last note: Sleep problems can be caused by other health conditions, such as heart and respiratory diseases, mental illnesses or pain. They can also be a side effect of a medication. For this reason, we recommend discussing your sleep issues with your doctor, especially if the problem doesn’t improve or get worse after an at-home test and some effort at improvement.
[Wesper is not a medical device and is not intended to provide any diagnosis or treatment for a medical condition. If you have any health concerns please consult with your doctor.]
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