Impairment of male reproductive function after sleep deprivation

Sleep loss can promote marked changes in the male reproductive system in rodents, affecting especially the spermatic function by means of NO pathway modulation.

Tathiana A. Alvarenga, Ph.D., Camila Hirotsu, Ph.D., Renata Mazaro-Costa, Ph.D., Sergio Tufik, M.D., Ph.D., Monica L. Andersen, Ph.D.

Volume 103, Issue 5, Pages 1355-1362


To evaluate the influence of sleep loss on sexual behavior, hormone levels, sperm parameters, and testis-specific gene expression in male rats.

Experimental research.

Animal laboratory.

Male adult Wistar-Hannover rats.

Sexually experienced rats were subjected to paradoxic sleep deprivation (PSD) for 96 hours or sleep restriction (SR) for 21 days or kept in their home cage as control (CTRL).

Main Outcome Measure(s):
Sexual behavior, hormone levels, sperm parameters and expression of stress and nitric oxide–related genes were evaluated.

PSD significantly decreased sexual behavior compared with the CTRL group, whereas SR had no effect. The PSD group had significantly lower testosterone levels than the CTRL group. Both PSD and SR groups had lower sperm viabilities than the CTRL group. The decrease in the number of live sperm compared with the CTRL group was larger in the PSD group than in the SR group. Regarding testicular gene expression, both PSD and SR led to an increase of iNOS and hydroxysteroid 11β-dehydrogenase 1 expressions compared with the CTRL group. These changes were more pronounced in the PSD group. A significant increase in endothelial nitric oxide synthase expression was observed in the PSD groups compared with the CTRL group. No changes were observed in dimethylarginine dimethylaminohydrolase 1 and casein kinase 2β-polypeptide expressions.

Sleep loss can promote marked changes in the male reproductive system of rats, particularly affecting spermatic function in part by interfering in the testicular nitric oxide pathway.

  • Fascinating study. Adequate sleep is necessary for so many physiologic processes. Interesting to see how the lack of sleep or deranged sleep patterns negatively impacts semen parameters and sexual behavior.

    Question: I treat a lot of males with ED using PDE5 inhibitors (sildenafil, vardenafil, tadalafil, etc.), which increase NO levels. Is it possible that this could negatively impact men with ED trying to conceive?

  • Ali Dabaja

    This is a very interesting study and thank you for sharing this data with us, I see a large patient population with OSA and I can see who this information can be useful. Could the authors comment and share with us any available data regarding the PSD rats going back to baseline (normal cycle) sleep. And if so, did they notice any improvement in their parameters?

    • camila.hirotsu

      Dear Ali Dabaja, thank you for your comment.

      Regarding the sleep recovery, we just have data about the hormones testosterone and progesterone. After 96 hours of sleep recovery, the PSD rats re-establish the normal levels compared to the baseline.

  • jimdupree4

    A very interesting study, thank you for sharing it. How analogous are the sleep cycles of rats to humans? Do you think that that 6 hours of nightly sleep in the sleep restriction arm is analogous to 6 hours of nightly sleep for humans? Also, is it possible to estimate a similar testosterone level in humans for the testosterone levels found in the 3 arms among these rats?

    • camila.hirotsu

      Thank you very much for the comment. Regarding the comparison of sleep between rats and humans, there are important differences to note. Rats are polyphasic (sleep in both periods, dark and light, but predominantly in the light period) while humans are monophasic (we concentrate sleep in one period, which is the dark period). Rats sleep 12-13 hours on average in the total 24 hours, while humans sleep an average of 8 hours. However, there are similarities in the factors that regulate sleep in humans and rats, as the findings about the effects of sleep deprivation in memory, metabolism, cardiovascular system etc are similar in the literature. On the other hand, rats are adults at 3 months old and live until 2 to 3 years (maximum). Thus, 6 hours in a rat corresponds to much more than 6 hours in humans. The correspondence about testosterone also may differ from humans in relation to the levels found in humans, however, it has been demonstrated that sleep restriction during 1 week in young healthy men leads to important decrease in testosterone levels. Thus, there is a correlation between some findings in rats and humans, but it is necessary to be cautious when trying to compare them.

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