What hormones are secreted while you sleep?
The relationship between sleep and your hormones is complex but undoubtedly sleep deprivation can have a significant impact on your hormones. This is mainly due to how sleep affects your endocrine system and your pituitary gland.
Your endocrine system consists of several glands that secrete hormones, including your pineal gland, ovaries, testes, thyroid gland, adrenals and pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is a small mass of nervous tissue within your brain that helps to regulate the release of certain hormones.
This important part of your brain is estimated to be around the size of a pea and it is attached to your pituitary gland, sometimes referred to as the ‘master endocrine gland.’ Your hypothalamus helps to keep your body balanced and is a vital part of your circadian rhythm.
When you sleep, your hypothalamus will signal the release of several different hormones:
- ADH (Antidiuretic Hormone) – Produced by the pituitary gland, ADH prevents your kidneys from releasing as much water, reducing your need to go to the toilet during the night. Children whose endocrine systems are still developing may have lower levels of ADH
- Growth Hormone – Critical for growth and repair, this hormone is produced by the pituitary gland and is particularly important for children
- Prolactin – Promotes breast milk production in addition to over 300 other functions in the body, including immunoregulation and metabolism
- Oxytocin – Sometimes known as the ‘love hormone’ this hormone is vital for human behaviours, including mother-infant bonding
Just as certain hormones are secreted at night, it’s thought that your hypothalamus can help to regulate other hormones, such as ghrelin, an appetite hormone which can stimulate hunger cravings. Cortisol is another hormone that you should be producing during the day but at night, your levels should be significantly lowered to help ensure that you get a good night’s sleep.
How does sleep deprivation affect your hormones?
So what happens when you’re not getting enough sleep? Well, simply put, it can cause your hormones to become imbalanced. Let’s start by talking about cortisol.
Cortisol is an inflammatory hormone that can help to make you feel more awake. As I’ve mentioned, ideally your levels of cortisol should be quite low by the time bedtime comes around, however, sleep deprivation can cause you to become more sensitive to stress. Stress is a major trigger for cortisol and, as a result, you will feel more awake and alert which in turn can prevent you from sleep, causing a vicious cycle.
However, this is not the only vicious cycle that sleep deprivation can stimulate. In my blog, ‘Is your lack of sleep causing you to overeat?’ I took a look at two particular hormones that are dependent upon a healthy sleep cycle – ghrelin and leptin.
Unfortunately, more and more evidence is suggesting that raised levels of ghrelin can be associated with sleep deprivation, while those who are not sleeping are likely to experience low levels of leptin, an appetite-suppressor. This can result in you craving sugar, carb-heavy snacks during the day, resulting in raised blood-sugar levels and potentially, diabetes.
You also have to consider that if you are not getting as much sleep, your body will not be secreting as much of the hormones that I have already mentioned. In the case of the human growth hormone, this can cause serious developmental problems in children, whereas in adults, you may experience fatigue, dry skin, anxiety and decreased muscle strength!
When it comes to other hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, there is also a list of side-effects involved. Prolactin in particular can affect your immunity as, if you are not producing prolactin at night, you can start to produce it during the day which can also increase your cravings for carbohydrates and place you at risk of developing autoimmunity.1
What about sex hormones?
I’ve mentioned a variety of hormones so far but what about your sex hormones? How does sleep deprivation affect them?
Interestingly, there is some evidence to suggest that a lack of sleep can have a noticeable effect. One study found that men with poor sleep patterns tend to also have significantly lower levels of testosterone, leading to reduced libido and poor reproductive health.2
This may be because your testosterone levels rise naturally during sleep, particularly during the REM stage. However, sleep deprivation can reduce the amount of REM sleep you get, causing lower testosterone levels.
Now you might expect that this would mainly affect men but no! Women aren’t immune to this effect either. Research has implied that there could be a relationship between testosterone and sleep apnea. The connection doesn’t stop there though – unfortunately some forms of sleep apnea have also been linked to sexual dysfunction in women – not good news!
However, despite the effects that sleep deprivation can have on sex hormones, it’s worth noting that sex hormones often have an adverse effect on sleep!
Often fluctuating levels of hormones such as progesterone and oestrogen can cause sleep deprivation such as during the menopause. This is because low levels of oestrogen can inspire your hypothalamus to raise your body temperature, resulting in hot flushes and nights.
The result of these hot flushes is that your body releases hormones to counteract the perceived rise in body heat, which can sometimes include adrenaline, keeping you awake for longer.3 However, the menopause isn’t the only time in your life when you may experience sleep deprivation due to fluctuating hormone levels – pregnancy can bring its own problems as your levels of sex hormones will also be fluctuating drastically during this time.
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What can you do to help your hormones?
There’s no doubting that sleep deprivation can take its toll on your whole body, including your hormones, however I wouldn’t lapse into despair quite yet. There’s plenty you can do to address the issues at hand as I shall cover below.
1 – Regulate your sleep pattern
If sleep deprivation is the root of your problems, then it’s important that you try and tackle this first. You need to try and create a good sleep hygiene routine that ensures you are getting at least 8 hours a night and then you need to stick to it, even during weekends.
Adjust your bedroom so it creates a more appealing environment to sleep in – consider purchasing black-out blinds and make sure you have a comfortable mattress. Try to avoid any distractions such as your electronic devices. The blue light emitted from your tablets, smartphones and televisions can inhibit your production of melatonin, the sleep hormone, making you feel more awake.
Instead, try to read a book or indulge a nice hot bath before bedtime. Try to make sure that your bedroom isn’t too hot and avoid any stimulants. Of course, it may take a while to adjust to this new routine but you will need persevere until your circadian rhythm adapts.
2 – De-stress
As I mentioned earlier, stress can be the biggest culprit when it comes to sleep deprivation, inspiring the release of hormones such as cortisol, which will in turn keep you awake for longer and make you feel even more anxious in the long-term. The best way to deal with stress is arguably to tackle it head on – get to the bottom of what is causing these feelings, whether its work, financial or family related.
Try to find ways of calming your nervous system. Practicing mindfulness can be very useful for quietening any stressful thoughts but I also think yoga is a good option too. Exercise is known to have a very calming effect on stress, plus yoga even teaches deep breathing techniques that can help you to cope better in tricky situations.
3 – Eat a balanced diet
Sleep deprivation can stimulate hunger cravings but these urges to eat sugary, processed foods can make your problem 10 times worse. Not only will sugary foods raise your blood-glucose levels, they can also stimulate your central nervous system, making you feel more awake during the night. I would ditch the chocolate bars and crisps for healthier alternatives such as homemade energy balls or fruit-packed smoothies!
Drink plenty of fluids and avoid caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea or coco cola. Caffeine can linger in your system for hours so that mid-afternoon cuppa could come back to haunt you later. I sometimes find that drinking herbal teas can help – not only are they packed full of antioxidants, teas such as green tea or chamomile can be naturally very soothing and promote calmness.
4 – Keep active
Keeping active, as I have previously mentioned, can be a great way to counteract stress and promote healthy sleep. Exercising for just 30 minutes a day can make a huge difference, improving your cardiovascular health whilst releasing happy hormones to combat any feelings of stress. Running and cycling are two of my personal favourites – neither of them requires gym membership and both offer you a chance to see a bit more of your local area.
Not to mention, exercising outdoors allows you to soak up more vitamin D and can help you to experience more sunlight, preventing some of the symptoms of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. However, if you are more interested in a low-impact sport, I would definitely try yoga, swimming or tai chi!
5 – Consider Dormeasan
Finally, if your problems persist, you could try a natural sleep remedy like our Dormeasan. Prepared using extracts of valerian roots and hops, this gentle solution encourages you to drift off and helps to restore a normal sleep pattern. Unlike conventional remedies, there are no drowsy side-effects associated with Dormeasan the following day and it’s non-addictive!
Just take 30 drops half an hour before you would normally go to bed and enjoy a restful night of sleep!
What if hormones are the problem?
What if a hormone imbalance is causing you to be deprived of sleep? Low levels of oestrogen or fluctuating levels of progesterone can affect women, especially during the menopause, triggering all sorts of symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats. If you feel as though your hormone levels could be the culprit, I would speak to your doctor and ask them to do some tests.
This should determine whether or not your hormones are fluctuating and your doctor will be able to advise you on further treatment. If you are menopausal, you could try our Menopause Support supplement which can gently balance your hormones, relieving many of the symptoms associated with the menopause, including mood swings!