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Sleep is important for plenty of reasons. What you might not have known is that sleep impacts your hormones, and hormone levels impact your sleep.

Sleep affects many hormones in the body, including those related to stress or hunger.

Too much and not enough time under the covers can influence hormones. That’s why a good night’s sleep is essential to keeping your hormones balanced.

Read on to learn the ins and outs of the relationship between hormones and your sleep.

Hormones are chemical messengers that play a vital role in regulating the body’s many processes, systems, and functions.

The body needs a range of different hormones to function properly. They’re released through the endocrine system, a network of organs and glands located throughout the body.

Hormones are responsible for many bodily functions, including:

  • metabolism and appetite
  • growth
  • body temperature
  • sexual function, drive, and reproduction
  • heart rate
  • blood pressure
  • sleep-wake cycles

The production and function of many hormones in the body are influenced by other body functions, like sleep.

Various hormone functions and their release are impacted by sleep or circadian rhythm and vice versa.

Getting adequate sleep is important for regulating a number of hormones, including:

  • cortisol
  • estrogen and progesterone
  • hunger hormones, like insulin, leptin, and ghrelin
  • melatonin
  • thyroid hormones
  • growth hormones

For example, melatonin controls sleep patterns and tells your body when to get to sleep. Human growth hormone is released during deep sleep hours, which is vital to cell growth and repair.

Other hormones, like cortisol, depend on sleep timing, duration, and quality for their release.

Good sleep is crucial to health, according to Sara Gottfried, MD, a clinical assistant professor in the department of integrative medicine and nutritional sciences at Thomas Jefferson University.

Nearly every hormone in the body is released in response to your circadian rhythm, also known as the sleep-wake cycle.

“When ignored, poor sleep will make you fall down a hormonal flight of stairs,” Gottfried says. “That’s true, whether you’re 30, 50, or 70.”

Sleep is important for hormones to function effectively, as many are dependent on the sleep-wake cycle.

“Getting regular sleep can help with hormone regulation,” says Abhinav Singh, MD, the medical director of Indiana Sleep Center. “Whenever we chronically disrupt sleep in quantity and quality, we disturb this balance and leave the door open to medical problems.”

Cortisol

Sleep regulates the level of cortisol, a steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It’s also known as the stress hormone. Cortisol helps regulate other hormones in the body.

“When you relax and sleep well and wake up feeling restored, your cortisol reaches a peak within 30 minutes of waking up,” Gottfried says. “That peak sets off all your other hormones, including your thyroid and estrogen.”

Poor sleep can have a number of negative effects on cortisol release. Gottfried recommends sleeping 7 to 9 hours every night to keep your cortisol levels in check.

Estrogen, progesterone, and thyroid hormones

Estrogen and progesterone play a part in maintaining the health of the reproductive system.

“When you don’t sleep well, cortisol is high when you wake up in the morning. That can disrupt the tango between estrogen and progesterone,” Gottfried adds. “It can cause your thyroid to slow down, which can affect your metabolism by slowing it down.”

Hunger hormones

Sleep is an important regulator of metabolism, the process of chemical reactions in the body that converts food to energy.

Sleep disruption or poor sleep can directly affect the production and levels of hunger hormones in the body. This can disturb hunger, appetite, and food intake, potentially leading to weight gain.

Poor quality sleep disrupts:

  • leptin
  • ghrelin
  • insulin

These hormones are responsible for:

  • fullness
  • hunger
  • blood sugar regulation
  • fat storage

“These hormones are responsible for how the food you eat gets used for energy and storage in your body,” Gottfried explains. “Poor sleep messes with this delicate interaction and can lead to insulin resistance and weight gain, in particular around your middle.”

According to Gottfried, even one night of bad sleep can disrupt your insulin levels. She advises compensating the next day by watching your sugar intake.

Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland that’s associated with the body’s sleep-wake cycle.

It helps regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, so you can fall — and stay — asleep.

Disrupted or poor sleep can have impacts on melatonin and its role in promoting sleep in the brain.

“Melatonin controls more than 500 genes in the body, including the genes involved in the immune system, so managing your melatonin with good sleep is key,” Gottfried says.

Growth hormone

Human growth hormone (HGH), also known as somatotropin or growth hormone, plays a vital role in:

  • protein production and synthesis
  • muscle development
  • metabolism
  • immunity

Sleep impacts the amount and production of growth hormone in the body.

“When you cut sleep, you reduce your levels of growth hormone, and you may be less able to repair injuries and more likely to accumulate belly fat,” Gottfried says.

According to a 2016 study, growth hormones affect the regulation and metabolism of glucose, lipids, and proteins in the body.

Furthermore, HGH deficiency has been shown to be associated with alterations in growth, body composition, and metabolism.

The ideal amount of sleep required for most adults is around 7 to 9 hours, according to Gottfried.

If you’re accumulating sleep debt during the week, you can’t catch up sufficiently on the weekends.

Missing sleep can lead to:

  • reduced immunity
  • more frequent infections
  • increases in illnesses
  • spikes in appetite
  • higher calorie consumption
  • weight gain

“If you sleep 4 hours per night for 5 days, you have around a 24-hour sleep debt [at the end of the week],” Gottfried notes. “You can’t make that up in a weekend.”

It’s important to get a good night’s sleep on a regular basis for optimum hormone regulation. This includes sleeping long enough and deeply enough to enter rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

Light sleep or sleep that’s frequently interrupted won’t do the job.

“Sleep debt is an epidemic that so many people simply take for granted as part of a busy lifestyle,” Gottfried says. “Sleep cleans out the toxins in your brain. It’s like a power cleanse. Poor sleep wreaks havoc on your internal biochemistry”.

Lower quality of sleep or not enough sleep can upset the hormone balance in the body.

“Disruption of hormone balance occurs if you don’t get enough sleep,” Singh says. “If your body produces cortisol for longer, this means you are producing more energy than is needed.”

This leads to less leptin and more ghrelin.

“You may also be skipping the healing and repairing time that comes from growth hormone levels during sleep,” Singh adds.

“More sleep isn’t always better,” Gottfried says. “One study showed that women fare best on cognitive tests at 7 hours of sleep, but increasing sleep beyond 9 hours is associated with lower cognitive scores.”

Too much sleep can lead to:

  • grogginess
  • daytime fatigue
  • reduced metabolism
  • impaired focus
  • disrupted sleep cycles

As good quality sleep is imperative for health and hormone regulation, excessive sleep — similar to restricted sleep — can have some negative effects on the body, including on metabolism.

Hormone regulation is essential for just about every bodily process. There are several things you can do to make sure you’re getting the most of your Zzz’s.

  • Aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night.
  • Go to sleep and wake up at regular times to train your body to know when it’s time to sleep.
  • If you sleep poorly, limit your sugar intake the following day to compensate for disrupted insulin levels.
  • Avoid accumulating sleep debt by missing sleep. That extra Netflix episode just isn’t worth it.
  • Keep electronics, artificial light, and phones out of the bedroom.
  • Keep your sleep space cool and well-ventilated. You can even try cooling pillows, mattresses, and sheets.
  • Invest in a quality mattress, so your body can rest comfortably and deeply.
  • Create a wind-down routine to prepare your body for rest.
  • Consider tracking your sleep with a wearable to get an estimate of your total sleep time.
  • Use a sleep mask or blackout curtains to block out light.
  • Try a white noise machine to cancel out disruptive sounds.
  • Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.

If you’re regularly getting less-than-stellar sleep, waking groggy, or feeling fatigued throughout the day, you may want to speak with a sleep expert.

They can help you develop skills to get a good night’s rest, as well as determine whether you may have a sleep disorder.

If that’s the case, there are a lot of options, including:

A good night’s sleep is necessary for hormone balance in the body, which is important for bodily functions and processes.

Poor sleep or not enough sleep can lead to a hormone imbalance, which can have negative effects.

Stick to a sleep routine, aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night, and limit sugar intake the day after your sleep is disrupted.

This can help you regulate your hormones and reap the health benefits that go with it.


Marnie Vinall is a freelance writer living in Melbourne, Australia. She’s written extensively for a range of publications, covering everything from politics and mental health to nostalgic sandwiches and the state of her own vagina. You can reach Marnie via Twitter, Instagram, or her website.