Cognitive ability, physical energy, alertness, and basic bodily functions are all influenced by sleep quality. The link between these capabilities and sleep may be a no-brainer, but did you know that hormones are also quite sensitive to sleep quality?
Better sleep can help realign hormones and restore natural balances within the body. By regulating how much of these hormones are produced and when, quality sleep is a key component to reaching equilibrium and maximizing overall health.
5 Integral Hormones Affected by Sleep
Sometimes referred to as the sleep hormone, melatonin is produced by the pineal gland, taking timing cues from the sun. As natural light dims at dusk, melatonin production picks up and tells the body to start slowing down and getting ready for bedtime.
While this hormone promotes sleep, it is also influenced by sleep quality. Timing and irregularity of sleep can throw off melatonin levels, creating a chain reaction and disrupting the body’s internal clock. This sometimes results in melatonin levels that are inappropriate for the time of day, often experienced as daytime drowsiness or difficulty falling asleep at night.
Quality sleep also regulates the production of cortisol, the hormone that enables the body’s stress response system. Cortisol is vital to the body’s fight-or-flight response, a survival mechanism that heightens awareness and heart rate to better react to potentially harmful situations.
[Read: “The Upside of Stress.”]
Having too much or too little cortisol can compromise one of the body’s most useful response systems, resulting in anxiety or drowsiness. Sleep helps regulate the amount and timing of cortisol
production in the body, keeping this powerful hormone in check.
Human Growth Hormone
Ever feel like your bones and muscles are just begging for a good night's sleep? That’s most likely because sleep is a prime opportunity for muscles to recover from exertion. Responsible for bone and muscle development, human growth hormone (HGH) is released in waves throughout sleep, actively repairing muscle damage and restoring strength.
But HGH does more than keep your musculoskeletal system healthy—it also impacts metabolism. In fact, metabolic processes are intricately linked with sleep cycles. Poor quality sleep can throw a kink in metabolism and pose extra challenges for the body to restore healthy metabolic processes, which are essential for weight management, the ability to burn fat, and maintaining healthy blood glucose levels.
Leptin and Ghrelin
While these two hormones sound like the names of goblins in a spooky movie, they’re actually among the body’s best weapons for maintaining a powerful urge: appetite. The production of leptin and ghrelin is regulated during sleep, and messing with this regulation can have devastating effects—in both directions.
Appetite is essential for us to have the desire and motivation to eat. People struggling with a loss of appetite can sometimes lose muscle mass and miss out on important nutrients because they simply aren’t hungry. On the other end of the spectrum, having an appetite that’s in overdrive can be an incredible burden to deal with, tempting overeating and unnecessary cravings.
[Read: “Struggling with Food Cravings? Mindfulness Can Help.”]
Again, sleep plays a major role in regulating all five of these powerful hormones. The better you sleep, the more likely your body is to keep them hormones balanced.
What Is Better Sleep?
While it may be apparent that better sleep can lead to better hormone balance in the body, getting good sleep is another question. What exactly does better sleep look like?
In short, good quality sleep relies on regularity. While one night of solid, sufficient sleep is a great start, you really need to make it a habit to experience the long-term hormonal benefits of consistent quality sleep.
Tips to Get Your Balance Back With Better Sleep
- Keep naps short. Daytime naps can be beneficial for the body, but if they linger too long (more than 20 minutes), the body may think it’s time for deep sleep. Not only can this trigger hormone production at the wrong time of day, but it can also mess with your ability to fall asleep later.
- No drastic schedule changes. Bedtime
should be as consistent as possible (even on the weekends!) and so should your mealtimes and workout sessions. The body loves having a healthy routine.
- Dim artificial lights at night. Remember, the body is naturally programmed to kick up melatonin and initiate sleep as the sun goes down. Keeping bright lights turned up—or staying in a dark room during the day—can wind up your internal clock in the wrong direction and topple hormonal balance.
- Calm down with pre-bedtime rituals. Avoid eating huge meals or tackling intensive workouts right before bed. Instead, give the body time to transition toward overnight rest by reading a book or listening to soft music.
If you’ve been feeling off or out of sync, a commitment to getting better sleep may be the first step toward restoring hormonal balances and enjoying a better quality of life.
Speaking of hormones, consider these 12 hormone disruptors you may have in your home.