The average American gets just 6.8 hours of sleep per night with 4 in 10 adults getting less than the recommended amount of sleep for optimal health. Over 70 years ago, Americans slept on average just under 8 hours a night. Sleep is the time your body requires to rebuild and repair tissues. Lost hours of sleep then impact overall health.
The change in sleep patterns has mirrored the rise in obesity rates. It’s not just the daily drive through or nightly ice cream in front of the TV that may impact weight control. Sleep is an important factor in neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism. All of this relates to hormones.
Let’s look at the hormones that may be disrupted when you stay up late for a Netflix binge or just toss and turn all night from that mid-afternoon double cappuccino.
This hormone manufactured in the pancreas regulates or controls blood sugar. In a healthy system, insulin enables the cells in the muscles, fat, and liver to use or store glucose from carbohydrates we eat. The hormone also prevents the glucose levels from becoming too high (hyperglycemia) or too low (hypoglycemia). In Type 1 diabetes, the autoimmune system destroys cells that produce insulin, meaning people with Type 1 diabetes must take insulin.
With Type 2 diabetes, formerly known as “adult-onset diabetes,” the body develops insulin resistance when the body is unable to use insulin as needed. This can lead to insulin deficiency when the pancreas is impacted.
Many people have blood glucose levels that place them at a borderline risk for Type 2 diabetes. In addition, metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of symptoms that includes risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, is more common with excess abdominal fat.
When our bodies do not get adequate sleep, the endocrine system, which is responsible for the release of hormones such as insulin, is impacted because hormones are “time-released.” An off sleep pattern disrupts their release.
The brain needs less glucose when you’re asleep; disrupting the sleep-wake cycle, therefore, influences your body’s ability to process glucose.
Although we think of cortisol as the “stress hormone,” it’s actually the mastermind of hormones. Created in the adrenal glands, the secretions of cortisol are controlled by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal gland, known as the HPA axis.
Cortisol is a multitasker; it helps to control blood sugar levels and inflammation, regulates metabolism, and even helps with cognitive function. In addition, cortisol helps with sodium and water balance, and therefore, blood pressure so as you can imagine, cortisol is pretty important.
What happens to cortisol levels when you don’t get enough sleep? If you are chronically sleep-deprived, your cortisol secretions are disrupted. In fact, studies show that people who only sleep four hours a night have elevated cortisol levels at night and those levels decrease six times more slowly than those with adequate sleep.
Higher levels of cortisol increase risk for obesity, particularly abdominal obesity or “belly fat” — and remember, increased belly fat increases the risk for diabetes.
Leptin & Ghrelin, the Munchy Hormones
Two hormones work to control that midnight craving that leads to pizza and chocolate chip cookie binges. Leptin, produced by the fat cells, suppresses the appetite. Released by the stomach, ghrelin’s job is to increase your appetite.
Without enough sleep, leptin levels decrease while ghrelin increases. You’re much more likely to reach for donuts or other carb-dense and sweet foods. And disrupted insulin levels mean your body isn’t metabolizing glucose efficiently.
Sleep is the body’s time to regrow and regenerate. The growth hormone stimulates regeneration and reproduction of cells, as well as growth. Without enough sleep, growth hormones do not get a chance to be released into the body.
Antidiuretic Hormone & Aldosterone
This hormone controls the concentration of urine in the kidneys, as well as blood pressure, keeping us from going frequent bathroom visits throughout the night. When we don’t sleep enough, we need to urinate more often and urine contains more sodium. In a catch-22, when we have to get up more frequently to use the bathroom, we don’t get a good night of sleep.
Sex Hormones & Sleep
Sex hormones are not only impacted by lack of sleep but can actually be the cause of sleep problems. As women go through menopause, changing hormone levels impact regulation of body temperature and adrenaline, which create sleep problems. Declining estrogen levels shift body fat to the abdomen, which can increase the risk for sleep apnea.
In men, testosterone levels are at their peak after at least 3 hours of sleep. Low testosterone levels from lack of sleep, aging, and other medical issues change the sleep patterns in men.
Tips to Help with Sleep
We’ve seen how lack of quality sleep impacts hormone levels and health so what can you do to ensure a good night sleep?
- Early to bed. Try to fall asleep no later than 10 pm.
- Stop drinking caffeinated beverages by noon.
- Aim for 8-9 hours of sleep during the winter; 7-8 during late spring and summer
- Avoid sleep medications
- Unplug. Turn off computer, tablets, phone at least an hour before bed
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily
- Magnesium can help you fall or stay asleep
- Save your room for S & S, sleep and sex. (No Netflix!)