Impact of Hormones on Sleep

Monday, April 25, 2022

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How do hormones impact our sleep?

Most of us have heard of melatonin, the “sleepy” hormone that builds up in the evening to help us sleep. Many other hormones also play a role. Knowing how they impact your sleep helps you to manage them, leading to better quality sleep – with flow on effects for your mood, health, concentration and energy levels throughout the day.

What happens when we’re sleeping? Our bodies and our cells are regenerating and repairing. We’re digesting and absorbing nutrients. We’re growing. We’re building neurotransmitters and sorting our memories, sifting through them to put some into long term storage and discard others. Our muscles are recovering and if we are unwell, our body is doing everything it can to make us better. So, we might think that we’re resting but in fact our body works pretty hard during sleep! Which is why it’s so important (1).

What happens when we don’t get enough sleep? We’ve all been sleep-deprived – maybe we tossed and turned all night or went to bed too late. Many of us have had stages in our lives where it feels like we’ll never get enough sleep – when we have new born children (or pets!); if we’re under a lot of pressure at work; if we’re struggling with high stress. Shift work, environmental factors like noisy neighbours or too much light in the bedroom can all disrupt our sleep. Occasional sleep-deprivation we can usually recover from after a day or two. Chronic sleep deprivation, on the other hand, can lead to weight gain, reduced ability to manage stress, irritability, reduced immune system and increased risk for dementia in later life (2). So, we really do need regular, quality sleep.

What’s the role of hormones?

Melatonin, which rises in the evening to help initiate sleep, is clearly a key player. Other hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, can also have an impact. A 2020 review looking at the role of ovarian hormones on sleep reports that from puberty, girls report more sleep complaints than boys; this trend continues throughout much of their lives and typically into menopause (2).

The menstrual cycle can be divided into two phases – follicular (from day 1 of bleeding till ovulation) and luteal (from ovulation till bleeding starts). During the follicular phase, oestrogen is gradually rising; it peaks at ovulation, drops sharply then rises a little during the luteal phase. Progesterone increases gradually from ovulation, then drops sharply just before your period starts.

Oestrogen and progesterone both play a role in quality sleep. And both drop quickly just before your period starts. So, a day or two before your period, you might have a couple of nights where you struggle to fall asleep, or wake more than usual. You might also struggle with more sleepiness than usual during the last few days before your period – this seems to be more common amongst those who struggle with PMS (2).

As we get older and move towards perimenopause, the decline in oestrogen and increase in follicle stimulating hormone has been associated with increased severity of waking during the night and poorer sleep quality (2). Add to this common perimenopause and menopause symptoms such as hot flushes, increased anxiety, insomnia and restless leg syndrome and it’s no wonder many of us struggle to sleep during this phase of our lives.

What can you do to mitigate the effects of changing hormones on sleep?

  • Practice good sleep hygiene (see my previous post for sleep hygiene tips).
  • If you struggle with PMS, carving out a little more time for rest and relaxation during the week before your period may help reduce your PMS and therefore improve your sleep.
  • Give your liver lots of support so it can effectively process your hormones:
    • Eat plenty of cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, brussels sprouts and asparagus to name a few).
    • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat a balanced diet high in fibre, with lots of plant foods, wholegrains, quality protein and healthy fats such as those found in nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil and oily fish.
  • Include a small serve of complex carbohydrates with dinner – whole grains or starchy veggies like sweet potato, as this can help improve your sleep.
  • Limit caffeine intake after 2pm (or earlier if you’re particularly sensitive).
  • Reduce alcohol – it may seem as though it helps you to fall asleep, but it significantly impacts your sleep quality.

If you try all of the above to no avail, reach out for a complimentary 15 minute chat to see how we could work together and improve your sleep.

 

 

1: Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep. Penguin, Random House, UK.

2: Brown, A., & Gervais, N. (2020). Role of ovarian hormones in the modulation of sleep in females across the adult lifespan. Endocrinology, 161(9). Doi: 10.1210/endocr/bqaa128.

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