Sleep. If there’s one thing that every health expert will agree on, its that sleep is a pretty big deal when it comes to every aspect of good health.
Unfortunately, sleep is also often the first thing to be sacrificed when we take on more than we can handle in other areas of our life.
As far as the benefits of sleep go, we would probably have to write a book to cover them all.
To touch on a few of our favourite benefits, sleep:
- Aids in balancing hormones;
- Supports memory, learning and mood;
- Boosts the immune system;
- Improves insulin sensitivity and metabolism;
- Regulates appetite, stress and sex hormones;
- Reduces inflammation and risk of developing chronic illness;
- Supports a healthy gut microbiome.
And so much more.
If you take one thing from this blog: Sleep. Must. Be. A. Priority.
So why aren’t we getting enough of it? It can be rather complicated.
The Sleep Hormone Connection
One of the most common (but often overlooked) causes of poor sleep is hormone imbalance.
However, at the same time, sleep has a huge impact on our hormones and sleep deprivation can both cause and aggravate the signs and symptoms of hormone imbalance. This can, and often does, create a vicious cycle of poor sleep and out of-whack-hormones.
This blog will explain each side of the sleep-hormone relationship, and next week we’ll dive in to how to have the best sleep of your life.
Hormones and Sleep:
Both our sex hormones and stress hormones influence how well we fall asleep, stay asleep and the quality of said sleep. The key players in our books are progesterone, oestrogen and cortisol.
Progesterone is our lovely balancing hormone that calms and soothes the brain, decreases anxiety, and really helps us to switch off and get a good night's sleep.
If your progesterone levels are on the lower side, either due to anovulation (failing to ovulate) or luteal phase defect (ovulating, but low corpus luteum quality leading to low progesterone production), you may experience signs of anxiety (such as a racing heart, sweats, uneasy feeling, obsessive thoughts that won’t quieten etc) and find it harder to sleep at night.
This is most commonly felt towards the end of your cycle, just before your period. This is because your progesterone declines sharply at this time, which can lead to these signs of low progesterone. Another common picture where we see this pattern is during perimenopause, when progstonere is also in decline.
Aside from anxiety, lower than optimal progesterone levels can also bring about:
- Trouble falling asleep;
- Tendency to wake throughout the night.
In contrast, progesterone levels increase rapidly during the first trimester of pregnancy, often making women feel more sleepy during the day due to the chill factor effects of this hormone, and needing more sleep at night.
Along with progesterone, oestrogen also promotes healthy sleep. Oestrogen promotes production of juicy neurotransmitters such as serotonin that support sleep, contributing to higher quality sleep with less disturbance throughout the night.
Along with disrupted sleep, low oestrogen is associated with:
- Low mood;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Weight gain.
Cortisol is our main daytime hormone, and also a stress hormone, that should rise in the morning to wake us up and then drop off at night to allow us to sleep. Unfortunately for many of us this isn’t quite the case.
For many of us, our cortisol production is either staying strong into the night, or is peaking and falling at the wrong times of the day; both of which can lead to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night.
Outside of our natural daytime cortisol pattern, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol in response to stress (in any form). High cortisol production stimulates a ‘fight or flight’ response, activating our sympathetic nervous system. This gears our bodies for survival, raising our blood, sugar, heart rate and keeping us alert and on the lookout for danger. Needless to say, if your body thinks it’s in danger, sleep is the last thing on it’s to-do list.
In times of acute, short term stress, this can be the difference between life and death. When we’re trying to fall asleep at night, it’s the last thing we want.
Along with difficulty sleeping, high cortisol is associated with:
- Weight gain and food cravings;
- Digestive issues;
- Imbalanced sex hormones.
Sleep on our Hormones
How does sleep affect our hormones? Hmm… where do we start!?
Firstly, sleep deprivation puts the body into a state of stress, meaning the adrenal glands produce more cortisol to cope with this stress.
If cortisol levels are consistently high, and don’t drop off when they should, you end up in a vicious cycle of being ‘tired but wired’ - exhausted, but unable to sleep.
Secondly, our key sex hormones are also affected by sleep deprivation. High levels of cortisol can result in one of two pictures of imbalance:
- The most common picture involves a reduction in the production of sex hormones; particularly progesterone as the two are made from the same precursor hormone, pregnenolone.
- The second possible picture involves an increase in sex hormone production in line with higher levels of cortisol production which can ‘flood’ the hormone cascade. This generally happens when the adrenal glands are revving high due to stress, and therefore over-producing all hormones.
Thirdly, the majority of your testosterone is made while you’re asleep. Meaning that sleep deprivation lowers testosterone levels, which may be linked to low energy, low libido and poor concentration/brain fog.
And finally, without adequate sleep we become more insulin resistant. In fact, just four nights of poor sleep has been shown to reduce insulin sensitivity by 30%.
Insulin influences pretty much all other hormone production in the body, meaning that insulin resistance acts as a key contributor to high androgen levels; a common hormone imbalance characterised by, irregular or absent cycles, weight gain, acne, unwanted hair growth, and PCOS.
So, in summary, if you’re looking for one way to drastically support your body towards better hormone balance, sleep is basically the one.
Keep your eyes peeled for our next blog where we’ll dish all the juicy tips for the best sleep of your life.
Looking for more information? Head over to our FAQs page where you can find out about Eve, what the Eve Hormone Balance Test measures, when the best time to test your hormones is, and more.
Don’t forget to check out our blog 5 Common Signs of Hormone Imbalances to see if those physical sensations you’re experiencing could be hormone related.
Disclaimer: This blog post is for educational purposes only. It is not designed to diagnose, treat or cure. We are all unique. For your individual health concerns it is important to discuss these with a relevant health professional.