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Sleep hormones

Unfortunately women are much more likely having sleep problems. According to scientists, women sleeping disorders are connected to female hormones. During reproductive period of life women experience monthly hormonal fluctuations and in addition, women have periods of hormonal “storms” during puberty, pregnancy and menopause. When hormone levels spike or drop women are more vulnerable to sleep problems and could have disturbances of sleep hormones.

Human body pattern of waking during daylight and sleeping at night during darkness is a natural part of survival. According to scientists, exposure to light stimulates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to the specific brain center (in hypothalamus) called “SCN (suprachiasmatic nucleus)” which initiates adequate signals to other parts of brain that control hormones, body temperature and sleeping cycles. During light time SCN raises the body temperature and stimulates hormone cortisol. During darkness SCN stimulates release of hormone melatonin which is associated with sleep onset.

Sleep hormones – melatonin

Melatonin is produced by pineal gland (in the brain). At the beginning of darkness the pineal gland switched on by SCN and starts melatonin production. Starting from 9pm melatonin levels rise sharply and body slowly feels sleepier. High levels of melatonin stay approximately during 12 hours (mainly during night) and start going down with first light of the day (sunrise). Daytime levels of melatonin are barely detectable. Sometimes melatonin called “Dracula of hormones” because it is produced only during darkness. Actually melatonin is responsible for human sleep cycles.

Melatonin plays a key role in internal body clock functions. But if the pineal gland is “switched-on” by internal clock, it will not produce melatonin until the darkness (until the person is in full dark environment). At the same time, pineal gland is very sensitive to artificial lights and can prevent the release of melatonin in following cases:

  • If bedroom is illuminated by artificial light or lamps;
  • If blue light is emitted by screen of TV or computer or mobile or tablet;
  • If person has increased sensitivity to very limited light (when brain light sensitive receptors overreact) – light sensitive receptors play a vital role in melatonin regulation.

Sleep hormones

It should be mentioned that pineal gland is not sensitive to red light – red light has minimum chances to suppress melatonin levels and shift circadian rhythms.

According to scientists, fixed sleeping schedule (going to bed approximately at the same time and waking up accordingly) is the best for sleep hormones healthy functioning.

Melatonin plays a special role in menstrual cycle regulations – it is responsible to regulating the hormones that affect the onset, frequency and duration of menstrual cycles.

Sleep quality – sleep hormones – interaction with other hormones

Human body produces many hormones which control several vital processes including growth, metabolism, immunity, development, reproduction, stress reactions and energy balance. Hormones are linked with sleeping cycles in a number of ways.

During sleep most hormones are replenished which is important for optimal body energy, immunity, memory, appetite and daily activities. At the same time, all our activities (work, sport, study, dancing, fighting, teaching, traveling, etc.) also affect hormone levels and have the influence at the quality of sleep.

It was already mentioned that melatonin production starts at 9pm (before going to bed) and suppressed in the morning (at wake up time). Another hormone cortisol (so called “stress hormone”) operates on the opposite cycle – decreasing during evening relaxation time (before going to bed) and increasing in the morning (at wake up time). During stressful situations (especially during chronic stress) increased levels of cortisol could change all melatonin production rhythms which could cause sleep disturbances.

Sex hormones are not considered as sleep hormones but they could have an influence at out sleeping cycles and quality of sleep. It is well known that hormonal changes during pregnancy could cause sleeping problems – increased levels of progesterone could cause daytime sleepiness and high levels of estrogens could trigger nasal swelling and snoring.

Reduced levels of melatonin in women suffering from premenstrual symptom could cause interrupted sleep, poor sleep or daytime sleepiness.

During menopause decreased levels of sex hormones could contribute to sleeping disturbances.

Another hormone adrenalin (produced by the adrenal glands) make us feel more alert and prepared for action. Increased levels of adrenalin would create obstacles for melatonin production and can cause sleeping problems.

During healthy sleep several hormones are released into the bloodstream including growth hormone, which is essential for growth and tissue repair and hormones ghrelin and leptin, which are responsible for appetite. If your sleeping cycles are damaged and if you did not have enough sleep, levels of mentioned hormones can be changed and adequate functions could be destroyed.

Short or interrupted sleep could have negative influence at prolactin levels which could cause weakened immune system, difficulty concentrating and carbohydrate cravings during the day.

Sleep also controls levels of hormone insulin (produced by the pancreas) that has a number of important functions in the human body, particularly in the control of blood glucose levels and preventing hyperglycemia.

Some changes in hormone production during sleep could cause unpleasant problems. For example, increased levels of aldosterone and antidiuretic hormone prevent us from needing to go to the toilet. Bad quality of sleep or short sleep could decrease levels of mentioned hormones and trigger bedwetting.

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