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Hormones and Sleep

How did you sleep last night?

The odds are alarmingly high that the answer to that question might be "Not so great".

According to one Consumer Reports study, 68% of Americans had trouble falling or staying asleep at least once a week, and 27% claimed to struggle most nights. That's a bigger deal than you might think too.

In the course of busy lives we often treat sleep like an open line of credit, making withdrawals when there's too much to do and returning that sleep debt when and if we can. Life goes on and the price we pay for sacrificing this important part of our health can mount.

There are plenty of things that can keep you up at night, but to the degree that it's possible, hormones shouldn't be one of them. Let's take a look at some of the hormonal causes behind poor sleep.

Cortisol

Cortisol has almost become a four-letter word. It's been popularly identified as the stress hormone, and many health issues associated with hectic modern life have been laid squarely at its feet.

What we tend to forget is that cortisol serves an important purpose, namely preparing the body for the challenges in our path. In fact, elevations in cortisol are completely normal and cyclical.

When cortisol is functioning properly levels are elevated in the early morning, prompting us to rise and tackle the day. Levels should drop as the day wears on, and be at a daily low about the time we turn out the lights.

The problem with cortisol happens when our bodies continue to produce elevated cortisol levels without enough nightly decline. 

The reason for that type of excess is often external stimulation and a mind that just can't separate from the business of the day. Cortisol management is one of the main reasons that it's so important to have a time of relaxation leading into sleep. 

Remember, those problems will still be there when you wake up, and you want to be rested and ready to take them on when the time is right. 

**Elevated cortisol levels can also be triggered by underlying physical stressors like digestion issues, pain, or inflammation. Correcting these issues will be critical to returning cortisol to its normal functioning.

Testosterone

The relationship between testosterone and sleep is an interesting one. It turns out that testosterone levels have a strong correlation with the amount of restful sleep that we get. 

Those who sleep less than recommended see a decline in testosterone. That makes sense because testosterone is produced in greater volume during the deeper stages of sleep.

What's somewhat surprising is that the relationship also works in the reverse. Those with low testosterone also tend to get less restful sleep!

All of this is made even more curious when you consider the generally invigorating effects of testosterone. Low testosterone often causes greater fatigue and lowered motivation, which you would think would actually promote more sleeping. Still, low testosterone ends up creating poor conditions for sleep.

We know what your thinking, and no, this phenomenon is not exclusive to men; the same effects can be seen in women as well.

Estrogen and Progesterone

The two main female hormones also play a role in healthy sleep.

Estrogen sensitizes our brains to dopamine, as well as triggering the release of serotonin (both important neurotransmitters for promoting calm and restfulness). Elevated or lowered levels of estrogen can have a disruptive effect.

Progesterone has a positive impact on our sleep because of a metabolite that is created when it is broken down called allopregnanolone. Allopregnenolone interacts with GABA receptors in the brain, which are crucial for relaxation, and if less progesterone is being metabolized, less of this effect will take place.

While estrogen and progesterone both promote healthy sleep, imbalances in these hormones can wreak absolute havoc through hot flashes and night sweats. These tell-tale signs of menopause are some of the most disruptive aspects of this phase of life.

Restoring restful sleep and all of the secondary quality of life improvements that brings should be a consideration when making supplementation decisions, and menopause plans generally.

Thyroid

The thyroid and the three hormone variations that it produces are our bodies main mechanism for regulating metabolism.

Feeling cold and sleepy is the hallmark of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). But the opposite can also occur. When the thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism) the nervous system becomes overactive, which can make it hard to fall asleep.

Because of the relationship to metabolism, people often talk about the thyroid in regards to it's impact on body weight. But it's if you think that your thyroid may not be functioning optimally, it's important to consider the metabolism's effects on your sleep.

So how are you sleeping these days? If you want more rest, ensuring that hormone imbalances aren't in your way is a decent place to start.

 

 

 

 Resources

 https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201112/testosterone-sleep-and-sexual-health

https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2010-06/role-cortisol-sleep

https://www.consumerreports.org/sleep/why-americans-cant-sleep/

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