Women's Health

Hormones and Sleep: What's the Connection for your Sleep Cycle?

Hormones play an important role in regulating your sleep cycle — but how? Dive into this fascinating connection with Thrivelab.
Dr. Nayan Patel
PharmD

It's no secret that getting a good night's sleep is essential for our overall health and well-being. While factors like stress and poor sleep hygiene can certainly impact sleep quality, hormones also play a big role in the quality of our sleep.

Follow along as we explore the surprising link between hormones and sleep, as well as how balancing these chemical messengers can help you achieve restful, rejuvenating slumber.

How Do Hormones Affect Sleep?

Our body's hormones are responsible for regulating various aspects of our physiology and behavior, including sleep. Some hormones promote wakefulness, while others encourage sleep. These hormones work together in a delicate balance, helping us maintain a consistent sleep-wake cycle, known as the circadian rhythm. 

When this balance is disrupted, it can lead to difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling refreshed. By understanding how these hormones affect our sleep, we can take steps to support their optimal function and improve our overall sleep quality.

Melatonin: The Sleep Hormone

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain, and it's often referred to as the "sleep hormone." Its primary function is to regulate our sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, by signaling to the brain that it's time to sleep. 

Melatonin levels naturally rise in the evening and fall in the morning, helping us feel sleepy at night and awake during the day. This is because the production of melatonin is directly influenced by our exposure to light. 

When it starts to get dark outside, our body increases melatonin production, which helps us feel drowsy. On the other hand, exposure to bright light in the evening can suppress melatonin production, making it harder for us to fall asleep.

Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands in response to stress. This hormone triggers our body's fight-or-flight response, helping us cope with challenging situations and protecting the body from danger. 

In addition to its role in the stress response, cortisol is involved in regulating our sleep-wake cycle. It helps us wake up in the morning by increasing alertness and suppressing melatonin production. 

However, too much cortisol or an imbalance of cortisol can prevent us from falling asleep and cause us to wake up feeling unrested. Other symptoms of high cortisol include:

  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Stress that doesn’t resolve with time
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Digestive upset

Ghrelin: The Hunger Hormone

Ghrelin is produced in the stomach and signals to our brain when it's time to eat. Ghrelin levels naturally rise before meals and decrease afterward, helping to regulate our food intake. However, research has also shown a connection between ghrelin and sleep.

When you consistently get poor sleep, ghrelin levels can rise while leptin levels fall. This can cause you to feel hungry even after you’ve already eaten and may contribute to even poorer sleep if you wake up feeling peckish. Getting adequate sleep may help to regulate ghrelin levels, supporting healthy sleep quality and weight management. 

This underscores the importance of sleep for overall health and well-being.

Leptin: The Satiety Hormone

Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells that plays an important role in regulating hunger and energy balance. It sends signals to the brain when we're full, preventing us from overeating. 

Interestingly, leptin also affects our sleep-wake cycle. Research has shown that lower levels of leptin, which can occur during periods of caloric restriction or fasting, can lead to sleeplessness and poor sleep quality.

Signs of imbalanced leptin include:

  • Weight gain
  • Insatiable hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog

Progesterone: The Relaxing Hormone

Progesterone is a female hormone that is especially prevalent in the second half of a woman’s menstrual cycle. In women, progesterone works to prepare the uterus for potential pregnancy and sustain pregnancies that are already in motion.

This hormone can have a relaxing and almost sedative effect, which is why many women may feel extra tired in the week or two approaching their period. 

One of our nurse practitioners, Brittany Meeker, says her favorite thing about progesterone is that it “really helps prevent anxiety, depression, agitation, and mood swings. So it really works on the CNS, especially when it works on the effects of GABA, which helps patients to be able to sleep at night.“

On the other hand, low levels of progesterone can contribute to trouble sleeping, mood swings, painful periods, and more.

Estrogen: The Female Hormone

Estrogen is the hormone that is famously responsible for female puberty. However, this hormone remains a key player in the female body far after puberty is over.

Estrogen governs the first half of the menstrual cycle, where it thickens the uterine lining to prepare for a potential pregnancy. Imbalances in estrogen can lead to brittle hair and nails, dry skin, and vaginal dryness.

Low estrogen levels may increase your risk for sleep deprivation and sleep disturbances such as sleep apnea. This is because estrogen helps the body use magnesium, a mineral that encourages sleep. This is why sleeplessness is a common symptom of menopause and perimenopause.

This is also why the natural hormonal changes that occur within a normal menstrual cycle can affect your sleep. For instance, you may notice that you have better sleep in the first or second half of your menstrual cycle, depending on your hormone balances.

Insulin: The Blood Sugar Hormone

Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas in response to eating. It helps our body absorb and process glucose, which provides energy for cells and helps regulate blood sugar levels.

In addition to its role in metabolism, insulin can also interfere with your body’s circadian rhythm. Because of this, a lack of insulin or an imbalance of insulin can lead to insomnia and poor sleep quality.

Testosterone: The Male Hormone

Testosterone is a hormone produced by the testes in men and the ovaries in women. It's important for sexual development and reproductive health, but it can also affect sleep in a number of ways.

For starters, testosterone helps regulate our circadian rhythm, playing a role in both alertness and fatigue. It also helps increase deep sleep, which is important for restoring our body and mind.

Additionally, testosterone levels naturally decrease as we age, which can lead to an increase in sleep disruptions. Low testosterone levels are associated with difficulty sleeping and poor sleep quality, so it's important to get your testosterone levels tested if you're having trouble sleeping.

Thyroid Hormones: The Metabolism Hormones

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck. It produces hormones — triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) — that regulate metabolism, energy production, and body temperature. 

If your thyroid is overactive, a condition called hyperthyroidism, you may experience hyperactivity that can contribute to poor sleep quality. On the other hand, hypothyroidism can contribute to sleep issues by causing anxiety, muscle aches, and chills.

Is a Hormone Imbalance To Blame for Your Poor Sleep?

As you can see, hormones play a pretty critical role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. If you're having trouble catching quality sleep, it may be worth getting your hormones checked to see if you have an underlying imbalance.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms regularly, it might be time to speak to a hormone specialist:

  • Daytime fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Poor sleep quality
  • Hot flashes
  • Sudden changes in mood or energy levels
  • Unexplained weight gain or loss
  • Changes in appetite
  • Abnormal, heavy, or painful periods in women

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule a consultation with one of the qualified healthcare providers at Thrivelab. They can run tests to check your hormone levels and help you find the best treatment plan for your individual needs.

What Can Cause Hormone Imbalances?

Hormone fluctuations can be caused by a variety of factors. Luckily, once you can identify the root cause of your imbalance, you can help support your natural balance and get enough sleep one lifestyle choice at a time.

Stress

In today's fast-paced world, stress is an inevitable part of everyone's life. However, chronic stress can wreak havoc on your hormones, including cortisol, thyroid hormones, and the sex hormones estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone. 

When cortisol levels are too high for too long (aka chronic stress), it can lead to cortisol resistance, which means your body doesn't respond to cortisol as well as it should. This can cause symptoms like fatigue, difficulty losing weight, insomnia, and anxiety.

Poor Diet

Your diet plays a vital role in maintaining hormonal balance. Refined sugars, processed foods, and highly processed oils can harm your gut microbiome, leading to inflammation and dysfunction in your hormones. The lack of fiber in a poor diet can also disrupt estrogen and testosterone metabolism.

Environmental Toxins

Exposure to toxins in your environment can affect your hormone levels. For instance, plastics like BPA found in plastic water bottles can mimic estrogen in the body, leading to imbalances. Common household cleaning products and pesticides can also increase the risk of hormone disturbances.

Birth Control Pills

Some hormonal birth control pills contain synthetic versions of hormones that can affect your hormone levels. For instance, the synthetic estrogen in birth control pills can have negative effects on menstruation and thyroid function and can even disrupt gut health, ultimately leading to estrogen dominance.

Many women are sold the story of birth control by providers who insist that the progestin used in the contraception is identical to a woman’s progesterone. However, nothing could be further from the truth. While they have similar chemical structures, progestin doesn’t come with many of the anti-inflammatory benefits of progesterone.

Additionally, ovulation is incredibly important for a woman’s hormonal balance. When this process is interrupted or halted by hormonal interference, this can lead to imbalances in estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone.

Katie Jo Dixon, another one of our nurse practitioners, says that “[oral contraceptives] suppress your hormones to a subpar physiological level, and you can start to experience symptoms of hormone deficiency.”

Brittany has a similar viewpoint, saying that “...Ideally, progestin you can find in birth controls actually depletes your natural regulation and production of progesterone, the hormone that we want.”

Age

Hormones naturally decrease as we age — for instance, testosterone levels decline by about one percent every year after the age of 30. After menopause, estrogen levels also drop significantly. These declines in hormone production can lead to uncomfortable symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and mood changes.

However, you don’t have to be in menopause to need bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. If you have a history of being on birth control, a history of metabolism issues, or any symptoms of hormonal imbalances, you may want to schedule a consultation with Thrivelab.

We see women as young as 18 due to hormone depletion from birth control, and women as young as 25 may need bioidentical hormone replacement therapy to correct hormonal imbalances. Even women as young as 30 can enter perimenopause and need bioidentical hormones.

How Can You Support Your Hormones and Sleep?

Hormones play an integral role in regulating our sleep patterns, and any disruption can lead to difficulty sleeping, which in turn leads to a hormone imbalance. It's a vicious cycle. 

There are several ways to support your hormone health for better quality sleep in your day-to-day life. Many of these holistic habits can be easily integrated into your life — it just takes a bit of learning and discipline. By prioritizing rituals that promote rest, in turn, your hormones will be happier, your energy levels can increase, and your quality of life can skyrocket.

Prioritize Sleep Hygiene

One of the most important things you can do to support hormone health is to prioritize sleep hygiene. That means creating a sleep-friendly environment and establishing a regular bedtime routine. Some ways to do this include keeping your bedroom dark and cool, avoiding electronic devices before bed, and winding down with relaxing activities like reading or meditation.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise has been shown to have many benefits for hormone health and sleep. For example, regular exercise can help reduce cortisol levels, lower tension in the body, and support sleep quality. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week for optimal benefits.

Eat a Balanced Diet

Diet is another crucial factor in supporting hormone health and sleep. Eating a balanced diet that includes plenty of protein, healthy fats, and fiber can help keep hormones in check by stabilizing blood sugar and reducing inflammation. Some hormone-supportive foods to consider including in your diet are salmon, avocados, leafy greens, and sweet potatoes.

Consider Supplements

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our bodies need extra support for optimal hormone function. There are many supplements available that can help support hormone health and sleep. 

Some options to consider include magnesium, melatonin, and ashwagandha. Of course, it's always essential to speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.

Try Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy

As we’ve seen, hormone imbalances can wreak havoc on one's health and well-being. Fortunately, there is a way to restore balance: bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (BHRT). This type of treatment involves supplementing deficient hormones with bioidentical hormones to restore balance in the body.

BHRT can help improve sleep and promote healthy hormones. For instance, one of our providers, Brittany Meeker, used bioidentical progesterone to help one of her patients fix a hormonal imbalance that was causing trouble sleeping. Thanks to BHRT, her patient was able to stop taking her prescription sleep medication.

Give us a call today to learn more about how hormone replacement therapy can help your hormones to promote a better night's rest.

A Final Word

The complex relationship between hormones and sleep highlights the importance of maintaining a balance in our body's chemical messengers. By understanding how these hormones affect our sleep and making lifestyle changes to support their optimal function, we can improve our sleep quality and overall health. 

Here at Thrivelab, we are committed to helping you achieve optimal hormone health and, with it, a better quality of sleep. Contact us today to begin your journey toward total-body wellness.

References

  1. Hormones | Endocrine Glands | MedlinePlus 
  2. Melatonin: What You Need To Know | NCCIH
  3. Interactions between sleep, stress, and metabolism: From physiological to pathological conditions | PMC
  4. Nocturnal levels of ghrelin and leptin and sleep in chronic insomnia | PMC 
  5. Leptin: A biomarker for sleep disorders? | PMC
  6. Eating and sleeping—their relationship to ghrelin and leptin | American Journal of Physiology 
  7. Women, Are Your Hormones Keeping You Up at Night? |Yale Medicine
  8. Exercising to Relax | Harvard Health Publishing
  9. Sleep & Glucose: How Blood Sugar Can Affect Rest | Sleep Foundation
  10. The relationship between sleep disorders and testosterone in men | PMC
  11. Thyroid Dysfunction and Sleep Disorders | PMC
References
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