The Significant Correlation Between Hormones and Sleep
Hormones work as chemical informants with a main duty to keep bodily functions running seamlessly. Hormones are responsible for everything under the sun, including appetite, blood sugar, circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle, body temperature, cardiovascular function, and muscle and tissue repair. They also dictate sexual function, and your sex drive–along with mood and fertility–can be greatly impacted by hormone imbalances. Scientists have discovered at least 50 hormones in the human body, though there are few key players that control how the body functions.
Healthy and regulated hormone production and secretion is reliant on how sufficient your sleep patterns and REM cycle are. While you slumber, your body is hard at work producing and releasing hormones that facilitate cell and tissue repair and other essential developmental functions. Not sleeping through the night, experiencing terrible insomnia, or short sleep duration can all negatively affect your health. Think of it as your batteries slowly depleting throughout the day, and at night getting rest and recharge in order to operate well the next day.
It’s a no-brainer–healthy sleep schedules and patterns leads to healthy hormones, and vice versa. Even the time of day you hit the hay matters. Let’s examine what happens to your hormone levels when they are thrown out of funk as a result of not getting a proper night of rest.
Produced by the pancreas, insulin is responsible for controlling your blood sugar levels. When you’re sleeping, your blood glucose levels surge, typically before dawn to post sunrise. Those who are healthy can naturally stabilize their blood sugar because insulin will indicate to muscle, fat, and liver cells that they need to absorb the glucose from the blood. That said, your kidneys recognize when your blood sugar levels are raised, and this can cause you to feel the need to urinate more frequently. Throughout the night, you might need to get up to use the bathroom, obviously disrupting sleep, and you also might feel an increased sense of thirst, headaches, and tiredness as a result of high blood sugar.
Cortisol–another hormone that impacts glucose, can impact how insulin works. When stress is high, especially as a result of lack of sleep, your glucose might be too. This can be a dangerous ripple effect. Those with higher blood glucose levels and insulin levels are more common in those who sleep poorly.
Since sleep deprivation impacts how the body makes hormones–which can alter blood sugar levels–lack of sleep also raises your risk of developing diabetes. Waking throughout the night causes insulin resistance on a cellular level, changing your circadian rhythm for the worse. Insomnia is also linked to higher insulin resistance in diabetics. So when your insulin is thrown out of whack, it’s suggested to take proper action and also give yourself permission to get more, uninterrupted sleep!
Leptin and Ghrelin
As mentioned in a previous article, Ghrelin and Leptin are two major hormones among several that are responsible for appetite control and feeling full. Those who sleep poorly often feel hungry when they actually aren’t, which can lead to weight gain, obesity, and even Type II diabetes.
Leptin is the hormone responsible for decreasing your appetite and also regulating your energy levels, helping you keep your weight under control, whereas ghrelin–which is made in your stomach–increases appetite and signals to your brain when you are hungry. Sleeping fewer hours a night is directly connected to reduced leptin, making your body become less able to suppress appetite, all while ghrelin is increased, causing you to crave and consume food. If you want to keep everything under wraps and avoid overeating or weight gain, prioritize getting sound sleep, in turn helping your circadian rhythm flow smoothly.
Human Growth Hormone
HGH, produced in the pituitary gland, is a protein that is normally secreted during your slumber, if your sleepcycle is normal, that is. Less sleep means growth hormone suppression. This is more applicable to children, but sleep deprivation might be linked to stunting growth in growing kids and teens. If you want your body to grow and build muscle mass, avoiding osteoporosis, 7-8 hours of nightly rest is a must!
Melatonin–the natural sleep supplement that is produced naturally in the body–is responsible for promoting healthy rest and regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. You’ve likely seen melatonin gummies or supplements that promote a better night of sleep, but truth be told, taking pills is only a band-aid solution to fix inadequate sleep. If you really want to tackle the issue, it’s a matter of getting down a routine where your body can produce melatonin naturally.
Sleep disruption can impact your body’s natural ability to produce melatonin, causing you to wake up frequently or experience difficulty falling asleep. Because it is produced in the pineal gland–which is associated with your sleep-wake cycle–regulating this hormone is beyond important. Do an assessment of how many hours a night you are resting, what time you fall asleep and what time you wake up, and perhaps even download an app or use a wearable device that can track how many times you wake up throughout the night.
Progesterone and Estrogen
Estrogen, produced in the ovaries, controls breast development, bone and cartilage density, energy levels, and mood, among other things. Too little estrogen might lead to less bone density and weaker bones, perhaps leading to osteoporosis. Too much, on the other hand, can manifest in weight gain, difficulty sleeping, low sex drive, menstrual problems, anxiety, and even cancer. The main takeaway here is that your body needs estrogen to be regulated, which happens during sleep. So, again, don’t skimp on sleep!
Progesterone helps maintain pregnancy and fertility, levels are highest during pregnancy. During a woman’s menstrual cycle, progesterone levels will rise and fall. When progesterone levels spike or drop, it can considerably slash sleep quality, leading to things such as sleep breathing disorders, difficulty falling or staying asleep, and so on and so forth. During day 1 of your cycle, you might experience crappy sleep as a result of low progesterone levels. Does progesterone cause insomnia? Not all the time, but when it is out of balance, it certainly can influence how well you sleep. Some women are prescribed progesterone to help with regulation, so this problem can be avoided.
Additionally, women might have a genetic predisposition–an endocrine disorder called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)–which is closely related to sleep. Those who have been diagnosed with PCOS might experience missed or irregular periods, excessive weight gain, acne, excessive body hair yet also hair thinning and balding, and infertility. To top it all off, women with PCOS have a higher chance of developing obstructive sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness. To help improve the symptoms of PCOS, women need adequate rest, which will support healthy hormone balance.
Believe it or not, testosterone isn’t just the “male” sex hormone, just as estrogen isn’t just the “female” hormone. Testosterone works in both men and women to support reproductive health and bone health. It is responsible for muscle mass, muscle recovery and support, energy and endurance, and beyond. You attain the highest levels of T during REM sleep.
One study showed that men who only slept 5 hours a day over an 8-day experiment had a 10-15% drop in testosterone levels. This is a massive drop, especially for mid 20-year-olds. If you get sufficient sleep, you typically only see a 1% drop annually. In other words, you not only age faster with a crappy sleep schedule, but also your testosterone level is that of someone a decade older than you.
Reduced testosterone is linked to snoring, insomnia, sleep disorders, as well as low energy and fatigue. Those with low T have a 50% higher chance of getting sleep apnea, too. There are of course hormone treatments to help with such imbalances, but the first route you should take is improving your sleep before considering more costly and time-consuming treatments. A cycle of reduced testosterone and poor sleep perpetuates if not fixed–so don’t let this slip.
The men reading this are probably shaking in their boots right now. But don’t worry! You can double your testosterone levels just by having a regular, uninterrupted night of sleep.
Raised cortisol levels can become a vicious cycle that is difficult to tackle, because if we aren’t sleeping well, it stresses us out, and if we are stressed out, we likely aren’t sleeping well. Cortisol production–when one is in balance–is considerably reduced near bedtime, all while melatonin production increases. This hormone trade off helps prepare your body for sleep.
When you wake up in the morning, cortisol levels spike naturally, and more importantly temporarily, to give you the energy you need to get your day started. When you have higher than average cortisol levels from stress, inflammation, and other influences, it will most definitely adversely affect your sleep. The more cortisol that is produced, the more your body produces energy, which shows up via sleeplessness and insomnia.
If you’ve ever asked the internet “anxiety keeps me awake, what do I do” then it’s likely because your cortisol levels are through the roof. While this news isn’t anything new, it’s important to reiterate that deep breathing and meditation can help combat stress. Once your cortisol is regulated, your face will feel clearer, you’ll give off a healthy glow, and feelings of distress and worry will diminish.
TSH – Thyroid Stimulating Hormones
The thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), produced in the anterior pituitary gland, is a glycoprotein that exerts growth effects on thyroid cells. Its main duty is to regulate via stimulating the production of thyroid hormones. Too high or too low of TSH levels can lead to major thyroid problems and even thyroid cancer. For example, decreased levels of can lead to thyroid issues, and increased levels can lead to hyperthyroidism, Grave’s Disease, and other diseases where your thyroids are overactive
During pregnancy, women might experience higher than normal TSH levels, but sleep behavior is also a major influence on TSH regulation. Sleep deprivation can lead to thyroid issues, so to ensure proper production, sleep is the G.O.A.T.
As you can see, ensuring that our hormones are balanced is vital if we want to live a healthy and happy life. We already have so many other stressors in our lives that can complicate how we show up physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually–why add one more difficulty into the mix? Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to set yourself up for success when it comes to sleep. Let’s do a quick run through of how you can implement sleep hygiene practices in order to ultimately reach a better sleep-wake cycle.
Attend your sleep hygiene practices!
There are plenty of ways to help improve your sleep patterns, simply by adjusting your nighttime routine and the environment in which you sleep. For starters, cut the lights when you’re ready to hit the hay. Lights out, a dark environment will help you naturally adjust to darkness. Use an eye mask if you get too much light from the street or have a job–such as a nurse or EMT–that requires you to sleep during the day opposed to the night.
Prior to bed, you’ll want to steer clear of large, carb heavy meals, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol–all of which can contribute to poor sleep or trouble falling asleep. If you’re feeling fairly energized prior to bedtime, a refreshing walk outside or some light stretching can help calm your nervous system, though you’ll want to avoid participating in any strenuous workouts before bed. Even a meditation–perhaps a guided one geared towards relaxation–can deliver fantastic results in helping you feel sleepy and relaxed. Additional practices to facilitate relaxation before bed include taking a warm shower or bath, or reading or journaling with dimmed lighting.
Other sleep hygiene practices include adjusting the temperature in your household to be on the cooler side, as it is harder to fall and stay asleep when your body is too warm. One you’ve all heard before but probably need to hear again–put the phone away long before bed! Avoid watching TV, video games, or working on your computer at least an hour or two before you plan to fall asleep, as screen time can greatly impact your ability to sleep. It is important to note that the firmness of your mattress can alter your sleep patterns–er on the firmer side because it is more conducive to achieving a deep sleep.
Brownie points for being consistent with the time you rise in the morning and fall asleep at night, as this can help get your circadian rhythm and REM cycles running smoothly. We also hold a lot of tension in our bodies that can contribute to poor sleep, so make it a priority to get a massage, book a chiropractic appointment, and be observant about adjusting your posture when needed.
There’s no denying that sleep and the endocrine system demonstrate a bidirectional relationship in many ways. Hormone regulation is critical if you want to seize the day while avoiding mood swings, stress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and a whole other mess of mental and physical health complications. Let’s not forget that sleep is important for cell generation and brain development! Help your hormones regulate by hitting the hay, every day, consistently, for 7-8 unabated hours.
Curious to learn more about the science of sleep? Our sleep science company is here to support you in your journey to achieving and maintaining proper rest.