How Sleep Affects Your Hormones

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Getting good quality sleep is critical for the endocrine system to properly operate. Ninety percent of cell and tissue growth and regeneration in the brain and the human body occur during the third stage of sleep, so this means that the number of uninterrupted hours of sleep is of greater importance than the number of hours itself.

Research shows that hormone levels affected “multiple physiological changes, including increased cortisol and … impaired metabolism” when sleep was disrupted as a result of subjects only receiving four hours per night. For example, the pineal gland releases melatonin, which causes drowsiness and sleep and activated during REM sleep and immobilizes the body and initiates rapid eye movement (REM). The pons is a structure at the base of the brain that is active during REM sleep and signals nerves in the spine to immobilize the body and also initiates REM.

Diabetes and thyroid disease are common among the many hormone-related disorders that an individual can develop when their quality of sleep is poor. In children, the endocrine and nervous systems are also interrelated and disorders of the endocrine system can manifest neurological symptoms such as headache, altered mentality, abnormal muscle tone and strength, and developmental delay.

What does uninterrupted sleep mean? It means that we go through the four stages of non-rapid eye movement (NREM), which make up 75 percent of the night and REM for 25 percent of the night, which occurs about every 90 minutes during sleep. However, when sleep is interrupted, the pattern starts all over at NREM and allows less opportunity to reach REM, which restores the brain and body.

A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study suggests that continued sleep fragmentation negatively affected mood and “reduced feelings of sympathy and friendliness.”

“The lack of sufficient slow-wave sleep had a statistically significant association with the subjects’ reduction in positive mood,” the researchers say.

Quality sleep is especially critical to the development of children and adolescents. Snoring, mouth breathing and apnea can have serious behavioral and social-emotional consequences for children including hyperactivity, emotional symptoms such as anxiety and depression, peer relationship problems, conduct problems such as following rules and social behavior toward others.

When considering how and if an individual is getting good quality sleep, it is important to also determine the method of breathing. Breathing through the nose is now known to be vital to good health Researchers in the late 1990s, found that Nitric Oxide (NO) gas was discovered in the nasal passage that was produced continuously prevented bacterial growth; mouth-inhaled air does not benefit the lungs and body the same way as air inhaled through the nose. Nitric Oxide (NO) Gas plays a role in the function of most organs and kills some bacteria and viruses, has anti-inflammatory effects and may play an important role in heart disease and aging.

A child with normal breathing and sleep patterns have a “pediatric upper airway appears to dynamically regulate airflow.” As the child matures and transitions into puberty, the “compensatory response to upper airway response pressure loading declines with age.” Additionally, a child’s sleep pattern changes as they approach puberty; where they go to bed on average nearly one hour later and sleep about 30 minutes less. This change in sleep pattern occurs before their physical changes are apparent.

Technology and screens that emit blue light on phones and tablets can affect sleep cycles by disrupting the circadian rhythm, the body’s biological clock. The blue light from our devices has a high concentration of short-wavelengths, which suppresses the production of the calming hormone melatonin, that promotes sleep. Behavioral sleep deprivation is associated with shorter slow wave sleep (SWS), increasing levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines and low grade inflammation. Significant hormonal changes affecting hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activity take place in the setting of sleep deprivation and affect the immune system. Scheduling time to wind down and having a ritual helps to create a healthy sleep schedule.

Co-authored with Lily Mai.

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