Sleep And Hormones Work Together
It sounds like the old expression “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” when it comes to the relationship between sleep and hormones.
Balanced hormones are essential to getting a good night’s sleep, but good, deep sleep is the time your body is most effective at creating the hormonal balance necessary for all of your bodily systems.
So if your sleep isn’t up to par, it is likely that your hormonal balance will also begin to suffer. You can see that this can become a downward spiral. But the good news is that by improving your sleep, you improve your hormones. And by balancing your hormones, you help your sleep!
Here is a look at the delicate relationship between good sleep and hormones.
Bonnie has always been able to enjoy good sleep in the past. No matter how stressed she might be, she could count on laying her head on her pillow, falling fast asleep and waking up the next morning refreshed and rejuvenated. However, when she reached her mid 40’s, her periods started changing and she began experiencing sleep problems. First, she would just have insomnia the night before starting her period. As her periods became more irregular, she started waking up in the middle of the night around 2 or 3 am and would find herself wide awake and unable to go back to sleep. With so little sleep, she would be exhausted the next morning.
Over-the-counter sleep aids would make her feel sluggish the following day. By the afternoon and early evening, she would be crashing. She came to see me on maximal doses of prescription sleep medicine and still was sleeping poorly.
Bonnie suffered from a very common sleep disorder that occurs with declining levels of estrogen and/or progesterone that accompany perimenopause and/or menopause. It is characterized by wakefulness in the middle of the night and can be very debilitating when it continues long-term. The typical patient with this type of insomnia often becomes addicted to prescription sleeping pills. Bonnie’s insomnia totally resolved after her estrogen and progesterone levels were normalized.
While menopause occurs in all women, insomnia does not uniformly affect all women and therefore, women may not recognize that this is a low estrogen symptom. Furthermore, if the insomnia has gone on for many years, other secondary conditions such as depression, anxiety, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, sleep apnea and obesity may develop.
It’s important to emphasize that insomnia can result from endocrine problems in both men and women. Disorders of thyroid hormone, testosterone, cortisol, and growth hormone can all cause sleep disorders. Detecting a subtle endocrine imbalance may sometimes be difficult requiring the expertise of an endocrinologist.
Sleep is a mysterious bodily process that is absolutely essential to good health. We should not have to rely on a drug to make us sleep! We do not have to be “taught” how to sleep. Every member of the animal kingdom has an obligatory need for sleep. If humans go much more than 18 hours without sleep, they start experiencing “microsleep” where they “zone out” from a few seconds to minutes. In fact many accidents occur when people are sleep-deprived – such as the infamous Exxon Valdez disaster and the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Falling asleep while driving is responsible for at least 100,000 crashes, 40,000 injuries, and 1550 deaths per year.
Tips for Improving Your Sleep Without Medication
Now that we see the important connection between sleep and hormones, how can we capture that elusive deep sleep?
Medication is not always the answer and carries its own problems. Even OTC medications can leave you feeling drowsy in the morning.
Here are some excellent tips for getting to sleep and staying asleep using easy, natural methods and routines that really work!
I can’t emphasize this one enough! Without adequate sleep, hormones will not be in balance. Period. (This is the one I struggle with the most!)
While you’re sleeping, your body is extremely active removing toxins, recharging the mind, and creating hormones. Skimping on sleep, even for one night, can have a tremendous impact on hormones and even one night of missed or shortened sleep can create the hormone levels of a pre-diabetic (source).
Try some of these tips to help improve sleep::
- Improve your sleep environment by removing artificial light, optimizing temperature and sound, and other stimuli.
- If possible, remove chemicals from your mattress and choose a non-toxic mattress that supports sleep naturally.
- Create a daily routine to help support your natural circadian rhythms. Wake up and go to bed at the same time, even on weekends to keep your hormone cycle regular.
- Eat a high protein/high fat snack a few hours before bed (7pm or earlier) or consume a lot at dinner. If you have trouble falling asleep, try these four tricks.
- Get a lot of natural light during the day, and spend at least 30 minutes outside each day if possible. The wide-spectrum of natural lighting helps boost serotonin levels which balance melatonin levels at night. In fact, my doctor routinely recommends that his patients get 30 minutes of sunlight or bright light within an hour of waking when they are working to balance hormones.
- Avoid artificial light as much as possible after the sun goes down. Install F.lux (it is free) on all computers and devices to reduce blue light and help you sleep better (it is also easier on the eyes).
- Drink enough water during the day and stop drinking about 2 hours before bed so you don’t have to wake up to use the bathroom.
- Take a soothing salt bath about an hour before bed with some relaxing music or a great book.
- Pray, meditate or find a way to reduce stress.
- Give yourself (or have someone else give you) a massage before bed to release stress and help relax (Personally, I love this for home-massage). Stretch before bed to relax muscles.
Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you think it is linked to your hormones?