How Poor Sleep Wreaks Havoc on Hormones

Thursday, September 26, 2019


Lack of sleep not only creates concentration issues and crankiness on the outside, it also wreaks havoc on our bodies on the inside.

Learn what happens to your hormones when you get poor sleep, and how to get a good night’s rest.

Hormones affected by poor sleep

  • Insulin: When your blood sugar goes up, your body releases insulin to help get the glucose out of the blood and into cells where it can be used for energy. However, when you don’t get enough quality sleep, your body can’t use glucose as well, which can contribute to insulin resistance. When your cells become insulin resistant, they ignore signals from insulin and your blood sugar stays high. This causes damage to your body and can lead to diseases such as metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers.
  • Leptin: Released by fat cells, leptin helps control your hunger by signaling the brain when you are full. But when you’re sleep deprived, leptin is reduced. Not getting enough sleep puts this communication method on mute, making it more difficult for your body to tell when you’re feeling full and satisfied.
  • Ghrelin: Secreted by the stomach, ghrelin stimulates hunger. Poor sleep causes ghrelin levels to increase, causing your appetite and hunger to rise. You might start to crave foods high in carbohydrates as well.
  • Cortisol: Typically referred to as the “stress hormone,” cortisol helps regulate a wide range of processes including metabolism and immune response. However, cortisol can put extra stress on the body when levels are too high. Poor sleep causes cortisol levels to increase, especially at night. This interrupts your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep, leading to additional nights of bad sleep. If your cortisol levels are consistently too high, you can also experience weight gain, high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression.
  • Dopamine and Serotonin: These “feel good” hormones are negatively affected when you don’t sleep well. Dopamine receptors decrease, making positive feelings more elusive. The brain also becomes desensitized to serotonin, which can make your mood unstable.
  • Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH): This chemical signals the thyroid to produce other hormones that affect the metabolism, among other things. When you are sleep deprived, your levels of TSH may drop.

Getting a good night’s sleep

The big question: how many hours of sleep does someone need each night? The answer varies per person, but here are a few factors to consider.

How much sleep someone needs changes with age. Here are the National Sleep Foundation’s latest recommendations:

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours
  • School-age children (6-13 years): 9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17 years): 8-10 hours
  • Younger adults (18-25 years): 7-9 hours
  • Adults (26-64 years): 7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65+ years): 7-8 hours

Your genes help determine your sleep needs. Genetically, you may be someone who needs more sleep or less sleep compared to the average person. Your genetics also determine whether you’re a morning person or a night owl.

The quality of your sleep matters as well, not just logging the hours. According to the National Sleep Foundation, coffee, energy drinks, alarm clocks, and lights from electronic devices interfere with our natural sleep/wake cycles.

If you have trouble sleeping or are extremely tired even when you seem to sleep well, you may have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea. Find a Bon Secours provider near you and schedule an appointment today.

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