Updated: Mar 11
For the sake of manhood and manliness, sleep!
Accumulating research suggests sleep plays a central role in reproductive health for both men and women (Lateef & Akintubosun, 2020).
Let's talk about wood, the morning kind.
In men, sleep can be linked to the regulation of the production and release of important sex hormones, most notably testosterone. In fact, most of men’s daily testosterone release occurs during sleep. Increased time sleeping has been found to be associated with increases in testosterone levels. This is why we tend to wake up to attention after a good night’s sleep. Conversely, increased time awake has the opposite effect (Axelsson, Ingre, Akerstedt, & Holmbäck, 2005). This is why sleep disturbances are associated with a significantly higher likelihood of experiencing erectile dysfunction (Kohn, Kohn, et al., 2020). In other words, if we cut our sleep short, our manliness gets short too, so to speak.
The above effect is due to the stress-producing effects of sleep deprivation; even when it’s just a small change in normal patterns such as reduced sleep by just a few hours per night. Decreased sleep duration and quality leads to an increase in the production and release of hormones associated with physiological stress response, called corticosteroids, which lead to a decrease in the production and release of testosterone (Lateef & Akintubosun, 2020).
"Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together." Thomas Dekker
Most of us have been through periods where we slept around 5 hours per night for days or even weeks at a time. In fact, a lot of us would have considered this a matter of hard-work, responsibility, getting s*#t done. In short, a matter of our manliness in action. However, the above research suggests that this might not be such a good idea. In fact, experimental research indicates that even modest levels of sleep deprivation lead to decreases in testosterone levels in healthy men.
When men are made to sleep only 5 hours per night for a period of one week, they experience a 10% decrease in testosterone levels (Leproult & Van Cauter, 2011). After only one week men’s testosterone levels drop to the levels that might be expected if they were 10 years older.
How are your swimmers?
This is all bad news for men, manliness, and fatherhood. It is not surprising that sleep has a strong association with fertility in heterosexual couples (Lateef & Akintubosun, 2020). Specifically, duration of a man’s sleep is predictive of a given couple’s likelihood of conceiving, among couples trying to conceive. The shorter the man’s sleep – e.g. 6 hours of sleep or less, as opposed to the optimal 8 hours – the less likely the couple is to conceive (Wise, Rothman, et al., 2018).
While sleep deprivation has been found to have some negative effects on women’s reproductive health (Lateef & Akintubosun, 2020), the above effect is in large part due to men’s semen quality. Studies have found a strong association between sleep disturbances and sperm quality in men. Specifically, increased levels of sleep disturbances reported by an otherwise healthy man have been found to be associated with lower levels of sperm concentration, of up to 29% (Jensen, Andersson, et al., 2013). Something that should be carefully considered if you are trying to conceive.
Sleep for your nuts!
Finally, as a bit of icing on this vicious cake of unmanning manliness, sleep duration and sleep quality are associated with testicle size in young and healthy men (Jensen, Andersson, et al., 2013; Zhang, Piotrowska, et al., 2018). Less sleep, or greater reported sleep disturbances, are associated with significantly smaller testicle size and volume. That is something to think about next time you feel like bragging about needing only a few hours sleep.
We know that sleep quality has flow on effects in all aspects of our lives, and this is yet another consideration to take on board. The consequences of sleep deprivation we have outlined while directly impact men can obviously have a ripple effect on relationships and families.
Take a listen to the inaugural episode of Not Another Health Podcast where Sleep Loop’s Coach G discusses women’s health with health and wellness expert Kaytee Boyd. Check it out here.
Lateef, O.M., and Akintubosun, M.O. (2020). Sleep and Reproductive Health. Journal of circadian rhythms, 18 (1). https://doi.org/10.5334/jcr.190
Axelsson J, Ingre M, Akerstedt T, and Holmbäck U. (2005). Effects of acutely displaced sleep on testosterone. Journal of Clinical Endocrinology, 90(8), 4530-5. doi: 10.1210/jc.2005-0520.
Kohn, T.P., Kohn, J.R., Haney, N.M., Pastuszak, A.W., and Lipshultz, L. I. (2020). The effect of sleep on men's health. Translational andrology and urology, 9(Suppl 2), S178–S185. https://doi.org/10.21037/tau.2019.11.07
Lateef, O.M., and Akintubosun, M.O. (2020). Sleep and Reproductive Health. Journal of circadian rhythms, 18, 1. https://doi.org/10.5334/jcr.190
Leproult, R., and Van Cauter, E. (2011). Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA, 305(21), 2173–2174. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2011.710
Wise, L.A., Rothman, K.J., Wesselink, A.K., Mikkelsen, E.M., Sorensen, H.T., McKinnon, C.J., and Hatch, E.E. (2018). Male sleep duration and fecundability in a North American preconception cohort study. Fertility and sterility, 109(3), 453–459. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2017.11.037
Jensen, T.N., Andersson, A., Skakkebæk, N.E., Joensen, U.N., Jensen, M.B., Lassen, T.H., Nordkap, L., Olesen, I.A., Hansen, Å.M., Rod, N.H., and Jørgensen, N. (2013). Association of Sleep Disturbances With Reduced Semen Quality: A Cross-sectional Study Among 953 Healthy Young Danish Men. American Journal of Epidemiology, 177 (10), 1027–1037, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kws420
Zhang, W., Piotrowska, K., Chavoshan, B., Wallace, J., and Liu, P.Y. (2018). Sleep Duration Is Associated With Testis Size in Healthy Young Men. Journal of clinical sleep medicine : JCSM : official publication of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, 14(10), 1757–1764. https://doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.7390