Medically reviewed by
Dacelin St Martin, MD
Triple board-certified in Sleep Medicine,
Internal Medicine, and Pediatrics.
Your body needs different hormones to function and develop properly. One of the vital body functions affected by hormone levels is sleep.
There’s an intricate relationship between hormones and the sleep cycle. Sleep regulates various hormones in the body, including those involved in stress, hunger, and sex drive. In parallel, hormonal imbalances can cause several sleeping troubles, such as sleep deprivation, insomnia, and obstructive sleep apnea.
What Do Hormones Do?
Hormones are the chemical messengers of your body. They’re produced by different endocrine glands and cells and released into the bloodstream.
From there, hormones travel to different body organs and tissue and regulate many of the body’s functions, such as:
● Growth and development
● Electrolyte balance
● Body temperature
● Blood pressure and heart rate
● Sex drive and reproduction
Your body needs different hormones to function appropriately; hormonal imbalances can disrupt several vital functions, including sleep.
What’s the Link Between Sleep and Hormones?
Researchers have found a bidirectional relationship between the sleep cycle and hormone levels. Sleep can affect the function and release of hormones, and hormonal imbalances can cause sleep problems. Getting good quality sleep helps your body regulate several hormones, such as:
● Cortisol: The body’s stress hormone
● Melatonin: A hormone the brain produces in response to darkness
● Appetite Hormones (Leptin and Ghrelin): Leptin is a hormone that suppresses the appetite and is responsible for the feelings of fullness (satiety). Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite and is responsible for feelings of hunger.
● Human Growth Hormone (HGH): HGH hormone is vital for growth and cell repair
● Thyroid Hormones: Thyroid hormones control the body’s metabolism
● Sex Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone are steroid sex hormones that play a central role in reproduction
The release of hormones like cortisol, human growth hormone (GH), and appetite hormones (leptin and ghrelin) depends on the timing, duration, and quality of sleep.
When you go to sleep, the levels of your growth hormone (GH) and appetite hormones (leptin and ghrelin) peak. Conversely, the body inhibits the secretion of cortisol during the first hours of sleep.
How Do Hormone Levels Affect Sleep?
Just like poor sleep can affect your hormonal balance, hormonal disorders can also disrupt sleep. Several hormones can make you stay up at night, such as:
Sleep regulates your cortisol levels, a hormone released by the body’s adrenal glands in response to stress.
Usually, in the first few hours of sleep, your cortisol levels drop. After that, your body increases your cortisol levels until they peak early in the morning.
Researchers also found that changes in the nighttime cortisol levels can lead to poor sleep quality.
Several health conditions can cause a spike in cortisol hormone levels at night, such as:
● Cushing’s syndrome
● Psychological and emotional stress
● Problems in the pituitary gland (hyperpituitarism, adenomas, cancerous tumors)
● Tumors in the adrenal glands (glands located above each kidney)
● Corticosteroid medications (prednisone, cortisone, methylprednisolone, dexamethasone)
● Oral contraceptives
● High circulating estrogen levels (caused by pregnancy and estrogen therapy)
These different medical problems can cause an increase in cortisol levels. Changes in nighttime cortisol levels can make it harder for you to fall asleep or sleep well at night.
Your pineal gland produces the hormone Melatonin, which helps regulate your body’s sleep-wake cycle. It helps your body fall – and stay – asleep.
A melatonin hormone imbalance can disrupt your circadian rhythms and cause sleeping disorders such as insomnia.
As you age, your nighttime melatonin secretion starts to decrease. However, other diseases can reduce melatonin levels in the body, such as:
● Type 2 diabetes
● Metabolic syndrome
● Rheumatoid arthritis
● Different forms of cancer
● Mood disorders
People with melatonin hormone deficiency usually have sleeping issues and find it difficult to fall asleep at night.
3) Appetite Hormones
Usually, the levels of leptin and ghrelin appetite hormones increase during sleep.
Sleep deprivation or poor sleep can affect your body’s ability to produce hunger hormones at night. That can affect your appetite, feelings of hunger, and eating habits, potentially leading to obesity.
Conversely, leptin hormone deficiency can lead to sleep disruptions. In an animal study, researchers found that low leptin levels are associated with disrupted sleep and long sleep durations. Obese/diabetic mice with a mutation in their leptin receptor had unusual sleeping patterns.
When your hunger hormones are off balance, you start experiencing trouble sleeping. And in turn, sleeping disorders can disrupt your hunger and appetite hormones.
4) Human Growth Hormone (HGH)
The human growth hormone (HGH) plays a vital role in the body’s growth, development, repair, immunity, and metabolism. Sleep regulates the production and secretion of human GH, and sleep deprivation reduces growth hormone levels.
Furthermore, growth hormone alterations can cause sleep disorders. A study in 2010 found that people with growth hormone deficiency (GHD) had poor sleep quality and daytime sleepiness.
5) Thyroid Hormones
Sleep disturbances such as obstructive sleep apnea, insomnia, and restless leg syndrome are common in people with thyroid disorders.
Thyroid hormones (T4 and T5) regulate your body’s temperature, digestion, respiration, and heart rate. Thyroid dysfunctions, such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, can cause thyroid hormone imbalances that affect sleep.
One survey study found that 66.4% of patients with hyperthyroidism had difficulty falling asleep.
Another study showed that people with too much thyroid hormone often had difficulty initiating sleep and staying asleep, in addition to excessive daytime sleepiness.
Moreover, in a population-based study, researchers found that people with low thyroid hormone levels had shorter sleep durations and poor sleep quality.
Consequently, thyroid hormone imbalance can cause insomnia and make your sleep less efficient.
6) Sex Hormones
Scientists have investigated the links between women, their sex hormones, and sleep problems.
Studies suggest that hormonal changes in women during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause can cause sleep disturbances such as insomnia, sleep deprivation, obstructive sleep apnea, and poor sleep.
In an animal study, hormone treatments with estrogen and progesterone kept the rats awake for longer and decreased their sleep durations. Therefore, estrogen and progesterone hormonal imbalance can cause disrupted sleep.
How to Improve Your Sleep?
Sleeping well at night is crucial for hormone production and overall good health. Then again, hormonal levels can affect your sleep and its quality. Several tips can help you sleep better and improve the relationship between your hormones and your sleep, such as:
1) Try to Get 7-9 Hours of Sleep Each Night
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. If you’re worried you might oversleep, set your alarm or have someone wake you up at a specific hour. That helps you sleep for a sufficient amount of time every night.
2) Optimize your Sleeping Environment
Keep your sleeping space cool, dim, and well-ventilated. Keep a curtain slightly open to allow sunlight to enter the room in the morning. Avoid using electronics or phones in bed. These tips can help you improve your sleep and keep your hormones in check.
3) Avoid Nicotine and Alcohol Before Bed
Nicotine and alcohol can disrupt your circadian rhythm and negatively affect sleep.
4) Test your Hormones
If you have a hormonal imbalance causing you to lose sleep, you’ll probably also have other noticeable symptoms. Consult a doctor to get your hormone levels checked out. Treating your hormonal issues can improve your health and help you sleep better at night.
Too much or too little sleep can disturb your hormone balance, among other adverse effects on your health. Alternatively, your sleeping problems can result from an underlying hormonal problem.
Contact your healthcare provider if you suspect your hormone levels are off or feel like you’re not sleeping well. A sleep doctor can help you diagnose, understand, and treat your sleep disturbances to get you back in good health.
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