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  • Writer's pictureMartha Lewis

Are your hormones keeping you awake at night?

Updated: Mar 23

When I talk to people about why they aren’t sleeping, the 2 most common reasons I hear are because of stress or hormones. Today, I’m going to talk about hormones and how they affect our sleep. If you get cramping, heavy periods and other PMS symptoms or perimenopause symptoms of hot flashes and night sweats, that's definitely a sign that your hormones are out of whack. Other indicators of hormone imbalance include weight gain, fatigue, moodiness, poor concentration, and insomnia.

To the men out there, don’t run away just yet. I’ll be diving into testosterone and other hormones and how they affect your sleep, too.

Before I get into the hormones, I want to start by telling you how I've noticed that they affect my sleep. My insomnia started in late pregnancy which I knew was hormones and I figured there was pretty much nothing I could do about it. Estrogen and progesterone levels drop so low during pregnancy that it can definitely affect your sleep. But even after I had a baby and my son was sleeping, I still wasn't sleeping.

Once I took the adult sleep certification course and figured out my sleep, I started sleeping great pretty much every night. But a few months after I improved my sleep, I would notice that I'd have a random night of not sleeping. I’d just be awake in the middle of the night for a while. Then I noticed that I would get my period the next day. I just started to accept the fact that that's how it was and that I was lucky since it was usually only one night. As I kept sleeping better, those nights of insomnia before my period stopped happening.

It just goes to show that by figuring out your sleep, your hormones will rebalance themselves. But sometimes you have to figure out your hormones to start sleeping better.

Let’s get into the hormones that affect sleep:

1. Estrogen

Estrogen is found in both men and women and it has more functions than just as a reproductive hormone. It also allows your body to use serotonin, increases bone formation and even helps to support your skin. When levels drop at the start of your menstrual cycle, it decreases your REM sleep. During perimenopause, your estrogen levels drop causing night sweats, hot flashes and muscle and joint pain which can affect your sleep. It doesn’t help that estrogen also affects how your body uses magnesium, an important mineral for sleep. Then as estrogen levels increase during ovulation, we tend to be less sleepy and can have trouble falling asleep. So depending on where you are in your cycle on where you are in your life stage, you know that when your estrogen levels decrease or increase that it can have a big effect on your sleep.

2. Progesterone

Besides being a reproductive hormone, progesterone is also very important for healthy brain function and has been shown to have a natural anti-anxiety effect. It’s believed progesterone can help you fall asleep faster and experience fewer sleep disruptions. When levels drop too low, it affects your sleep causing you to wake up in the night.

3. Testosterone

Low levels of testosterone for men and women can affect your sleep since it’s shown that levels are highest during REM sleep. This can easily become a vicious cycle because not getting REM sleep can impact your testosterone levels and then low testosterone levels can cause insomnia.

4. Insulin

If you're eating too many refined carbohydrates and refined sugars and you’re spiking your blood sugar then you're going to be on a blood sugar roller coaster. When you eat something that raises your blood sugar, your body produces insulin to lower that blood sugar. Insulin is an inflammatory hormone and, because cortisol is an anti-inflammatory hormone, your body releases cortisol to deal with the inflammation from insulin.

If you're on this roller coaster during the day then it’s going to continue into the night. When your blood sugar levels drop too low in the night it's going to cause cortisol to be released because your body is screaming for energy. You won't necessarily feel hungry, but you will most definitely feel awake.

5. Melatonin and cortisol

Cortisol affects your sleep because it suppresses melatonin, your sleepy hormone. Once cortisol is released in the night, it takes about an hour for your body to get rid of it and to produce melatonin again.

6. Thyroid

I'm going to talk about the thyroid next week, so I'm not going to go in much depth here. But both hypo and hyperthyroid issues can cause sleep disturbances.

7. Hormone balance

As you can see, when any of your hormones are too low or too high it's going to affect your sleep.

Another point I want to bring up is about how hormone production works. Your steroid hormones, which include estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, and cortisol, are made from cholesterol. Cholesterol than makes the master hormone pregnenolone. Then pregnenolone produces the other hormones. If you continually need lots of cortisol from either inflammation or from constantly being under stress, then your body is going to put all of its resources into making cortisol for as long as it can. The problem is that that’s going to affect how many resources it has to make your other hormones.

Now you can see that cortisol affects your sleep in 2 ways. First of all, it wakes you up in the night when you want to be sleeping. Secondly, if you're constantly producing cortisol to deal with stress and inflammation, your body won’t be able to make enough of the other hormones. And low levels of the other hormones will cause insomnia, too.

I love the lab test called the Dutch complete test that I do with my clients. It’s a dried urine test that tells you gives you a comprehensive analysis of your hormones. Most doctors use saliva or blood tests for hormones. These show you what’s circulating in your bloodstream but they don’t tell you how your hormones are being metabolized like the Dutch test does.

If you aren’t sleeping and you think your hormones are out of balance, let’s chat! You can schedule a call with me to find out why you aren’t sleeping and what you can do to fix it. Because you are meant to sleep well!

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