Danielle Pacheco , Staff Writer
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Abhinav Singh , Sleep Physician
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We regularly assess how the content in this article aligns with current scientific literature and expert recommendations in order to provide the most up-to-date research.
Sleep is an essential function that allows your body and mind to recharge, leaving you refreshed and alert when you wake up. Healthy sleep also helps the body remain healthy and stave off diseases. Without enough sleep, the brain cannot function properly. This can impair your abilities to concentrate, think clearly, and process memories.
Most adults require between seven and nine hours of nightly sleep. Children and teenagers need substantially more sleep, particularly if they are younger than five years of age. Work schedules, day-to-day stressors, a disruptive bedroom environment, and medical conditions can all prevent us from receiving enough sleep. A healthy diet and positive lifestyle habits can help ensure an adequate amount of sleep each night – but for some, chronic lack of sleep may be the first sign of a sleep disorder.
The Science Behind Sleep
An internal “body clock” regulates your sleep cycle, controlling when you feel tired and ready for bed or refreshed and alert. This clock operates on a 24-hour cycle known as the circadian rhythm. After waking up from sleep, you’ll become increasingly tired throughout the day. These feelings will peak in the evening leading up to bedtime.
This sleep drive – also known as sleep-wake homeostasis – may be linked to adenosine, an organic compound produced in the brain. Adenosine levels increase throughout the day as you become more tired, and then the body breaks down this compound during sleep.
Light also influences the circadian rhythm. The brain contains a special region of nerve cells known as the hypothalamus, and a cluster of cells in the hypothalamus called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which processes signals when the eyes are exposed to natural or artificial light. These signals help the brain determine whether it is day or night.
As natural light disappears in the evening, the body will release melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness. When the sun rises in the morning, the body will release the hormone known as cortisol that promotes energy and alertness.
Stages of Sleep
Once we fall asleep, our bodies follow a sleep cycle divided into four stages. The first three stages are known as non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the final stage is known as rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.
- Stage 1 NREM: This first stage marks the transition between wakefulness and sleep, and consists of light sleep. Muscles relax and your heart rate, breathing, and eye movements begin to slow down, as do your brain waves, which are more active when you are awake. Stage 1 typically lasts several minutes.
- Stage 2 NREM: This second NREM sleep stage is characterized by deeper sleep as your heart rate and breathing rates continue slowing down and the muscles become more relaxed. Eye movements will cease and your body temperature will decrease. Apart from some brief moments of higher frequency electrical activity, brain waves also remain slow. Stage 2 is typically the longest of the four sleep stages.
- Stage 3 NREM: This stage plays an important role in making you feel refreshed and alert the next day. Heartbeat, breathing, and brain wave activity all reach their lowest levels, and the muscles are as relaxed as they will be. This stage will be longer at first and decrease in duration throughout the night.
- REM: The first REM stage will occur about 90 minutes after you fall asleep. As the name suggests, your eyes will move back and forth rather quickly under your eyelids. Breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure will begin to increase. Dreaming will typically occur during REM sleep, and your arms and legs will become paralyzed – it’s believed this is intended to prevent you from physically acting out on your dreams. The duration of each REM sleep cycle increases as the night progresses. Numerous studies have also linked REM sleep to memory consolidation, the process of converting recently learned experiences into long-term memories. The duration of the REM stage will decrease as you age, causing you to spend more time in the NREM stages.
These four stages will repeat cyclically throughout the night until you wake up. For most people, the duration of each cycle will last about 90-120 minutes. NREM sleep constitutes about 75% to 80% of each cycle. You may also wake up briefly during the night but not remember the next day. These episodes are known as “W” stages.
How Much Sleep Do Humans Need?
The right amount of sleep largely depends on your age. We recommend the following daily sleep allotment for different age groups.
Articles On Sleep and Health
- Benefits of Sleep
- How Much Sleep Is Enough?
A lack of sleep at night can make you cranky the next day. And over time, skimping on sleep can mess up more than just your morning mood. Studies show getting quality sleep on a regular basis can help improve all sorts of issues, from your blood sugar to your workouts.
Here’s why you should give your body the ZZZs it needs.
When you’re running low on sleep, you’ll probably have trouble holding onto and recalling details. That’s because sleep plays a big part in both learning and memory. Without enough sleep, it’s tough to focus and take in new information. Your brain also doesn’t have enough time to properly store memories so you can pull them up later.
Sleep lets your brain catch up so you’re ready for what’s next.
Another thing that your brain does while you sleep is process your emotions. Your mind needs this time in order to recognize and react the right way. When you cut that short, you tend to have more negative emotional reactions and fewer positive ones.
Chronic lack of sleep can also raise the chance of having a mood disorder. One large study showed that when you have insomnia, you’re five times more likely to develop depression, and your odds of anxiety or panic disorders are even greater.
Refreshing slumber helps you hit the reset button on a bad day, improve your outlook on life, and be better prepared to meet challenges.
While you sleep, your blood pressure goes down, giving your heart and blood vessels a bit of a rest. The less sleep you get, the longer your blood pressure stays up during a 24-hour cycle. High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, including stroke.
Short-term down time can have long-term payoffs.
If your sport requires quick bursts of energy, like wrestling or weightlifting, sleep loss may not affect you as much as with endurance sports like running, swimming, and biking. But you’re not doing yourself any favors.
Besides robbing you of energy and time for muscle repair, lack of sleep saps your motivation, which is what gets you to the finish line. You’ll face a harder mental and physical challenge — and see slower reaction times.
Proper rest sets you up for your best performance.
Steadier Blood Sugar
During the deep, slow-wave part of your sleep cycle, the amount of glucose in your blood drops. Not enough time in this deepest stage means you don’t get that break to allow a reset — like leaving the volume turned up. Your body will have a harder time responding to your cells’ needs and blood sugar levels.
Allow yourself to reach and remain in this deep sleep, and you’re less likely to get type 2 diabetes.
To help you ward off illnesses, your immune system identifies harmful bacteria and viruses in your body and destroys them. Ongoing lack of sleep changes the way your immune cells work. They may not attack as quickly, and you could get sick more often.
Good nightly rest now can help you avoid that tired, worn-out feeling, as well as spending days in bed as your body tries to recover.
When you’re well-rested, you’re less hungry. Being sleep-deprived messes with the hormones in your brain — leptin and ghrelin — that control appetite.
With those out of balance, your resistance to the temptation of unhealthy foods goes way down. And when you’re tired, you’re less likely to want to get up and move your body. Together, it’s a recipe for putting on pounds.
The time you spend in bed goes hand-in-hand with the time you spend at the table and at the gym to help you manage your weight.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Sleep needs vary, but on average, regularly sleeping more than 9 hours a night may do more harm than good. Research found that people who slept longer had more calcium buildup in their heart arteries and less flexible leg arteries, too.
Your best bet is to shoot for 7-8 hours of slumber each night for peak health benefits.
Healthy Sleep: “Sleep, Learning, and Memory,” “Sleep and Mood.”
Psychological Bulletin: “Overnight therapy? The role of sleep in emotional brain processing.”
Sleep Medicine Reviews: “Sleep and Emotion Regulation: An Organizing, Integrative Review.”
CDC: “How Does Sleep Affect Your Heart Health?
Chest: “Sleep and Hypertension.”
Cleveland Clinic: “How Even a Little Sleep Loss Hinders Your Athletic Performance.”
National Sleep Foundation: “Sleep Longer To Lower Blood Glucose Levels.”
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency.”
National Institutes of Health: “Molecular ties between lack of sleep and weight gain.”
Mayo Clinic: “Is too little sleep a cause of weight gain?”
Harvard Health Publishing: “A good night’s sleep: Advice to take to heart.”
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Wednesday 14 March 2018
There’s a lot we don’t know about sleep. Questions like why we have sleep cycles, why we dream and why humans even need sleep in the first place are ones scientists are still finding exact answers to.
But one thing’s for certain: when we sleep, and sleep well, we feel better physically and mentally, and perform better during the day. Read on to find out some of the things we do know about sleep and why it’s so important for our bodies and minds.
1. Your brain sorts and processes the day’s information
Don’t be fooled into thinking that when you’re asleep your brain has shut off too. Your brain is actually quite busy while you sleep, sorting and storing information from the day. This process is particularly important for creating long term memories, as your brain consolidates all the information it’s picked up during the day and files it away for later use.
2. Hormones flood your body
There are a number of different hormones released during sleep, all with different purposes. Melatonin, released by the pineal gland, controls your sleep patterns. Levels increase at night time, making you feel sleepy. While you’re sleeping, your pituitary gland releases growth hormone, which helps your body to grow and repair itself.
3. Your sympathetic nervous system chills out
During sleep, your sympathetic nervous system – which controls your fight or flight response – gets a chance to relax. Studies have shown that when we’re deprived of sleep, sympathetic nervous system activity increases, which is also mirrored by an increase in blood pressure. Scientists studying coronary disease are investigating whether there’s a relationship between decreased sleep duration and increased risk of heart disease.
4. Cortisol levels lower
Levels of cortisol, often called the stress hormone, decreases during the first few hours of sleep before rising to peak soon after you wake up. This helps makes you feel perky when you wake up and switches on your appetite.
5. Your muscles paralyse
While asleep, you cycle through periods of non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM) and rapid eye movement sleep (REM). It’s during REM sleep that we have the most vivid dreams.
During this stage, your muscles are temporarily paralysed, meaning you can’t move. Some scientists think this might be so that you don’t physically act out your dreams.
6. Anti-Diuretic Hormone (ADH) helps you not have to pee
Ever wondered why you have to go to the toilet to pee every couple of hours during the day, but can sleep a whole eight without heading to the loo? Thank ADH, an anti-diuretic hormone released by the brain under a circadian rhythm which switches off the need to urinate so often overnight.
7. Your immune system releases inflammation fighting cytokines
While you’re sleeping, your immune system releases a type of small proteins called cytokines. If you’re sick or injured, these cytokines help your body fight inflammation, infection and trauma. Without enough sleep, your immune system might not be able to function at its best.
Your body does a lot of important work while you’re asleep. Good sleep is vital for your physical and mental health, so if you’re having trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, not feeling rested when you wake up or feeling tired during the day, talk to your doctor about what you can do to improve your sleep or whether there’s an underlying health issue or sleep disorder causing your lack of Zs.
More reading on sleep:
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If you eat well and exercise regularly, but don’t get at least seven hours of sleep every night, you may be undermining all of your other efforts.
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And we’re not being dramatic! Sleep is crucial for our health — and many of us are lacking when it comes to it.
“First and foremost we need to make sleep a priority,” says sleep expert Michelle Drerup, PsyD, DBSM. “We always recommend a good diet and exercise to everyone, but along the same lines we recommend proper sleep as well.”
How much sleep do you actually need?
Everyone feels better after a good night’s rest. But now, thanks to a report from the National Sleep Foundation, you can aim for a targeted sleep number tailored to your age.
The foundation based its report on two years of research and breaks it down into nine age-specific categories, with a slight range that allows for individual preferences:
- Adults, 65+ years: 7 to 8 hours.
- Adults, 26 to 64 years: 7 to 9 hours.
- Young adults, 18 to 25 years: 7 to 9 hours.
- Teenagers, 14 to 17 years: 8 to 10 hours.
- School-age children, 6 to 13 years: 9 to 11 hours.
- Preschool children, 3 to 5 years: 10 to 13 hours.
- Toddlers, 1 to 2 years: 11 to 14 hours.
- Infants, 4 to 11 months: 12 to 15 hours.
- Newborns, 0 to 3 months: 14 to 17 hours.
Doctors have also found evidence that genetic, behavioral and environmental factors help determine how much sleep you need for your best health and daily performance.
But a minimum of seven hours of sleep is a step in the right direction to improve your health, Dr. Drerup advises.
What happens when you don’t get enough sleep?
Your doctor urges you to get enough sleep for good reason, Dr. Drerup says. Shorting yourself on shut-eye has a negative impact on your health in many ways:
Short-term problems can include:
- Lack of alertness. Even missing as little as 1.5 hours can have an impact on how you feel.
- Excessive daytime sleepiness. It can make you very sleepy and tired during the day.
- Impaired memory. Lack of sleep can affect your ability to think, remember and process information.
- Relationship stress. It can make you feel moody and you can become more likely to have conflicts with others.
- Quality of life. You may become less likely to participate in normal daily activities or to exercise.
- Greater likelihood for car accidents. Drowsy driving accounts for thousands of crashes, injuries and fatalities each year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
If you continue operating without enough sleep, you may see more long-term and serious health problems. Some of the most serious potential problems associated with chronic sleep deprivation are high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attack, heart failure or stroke. Other potential problems include obesity, depression, reduced immune system function and lower sex drive.
Chronic sleep deprivation can even affect your appearance. Over time, it can lead to premature wrinkling and dark circles under your eyes. There’s also a link between lack of sleep and an increase in the amount of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. Cortisol can break down collagen, the protein that keeps skin smooth. In other words, a lack of sleep could mean more wrinkles!
How to sleep better
If you’re experiencing mild, occasional problems with sleep, try these simple strategies from Dr. Drerup.
1. Treat getting enough sleep as if it is as important as taking medicine
With all the demands on our time every day, you might put a good night’s rest at the bottom of your priority list. But Dr. Drerup says we need to schedule adequate time for sleep.
“It’s very easy to stay up late and burn the candle at both ends,” she says. “However, when you do that, you quickly run into a problem of dealing with sleep deprivation.”
2. Keep a consistent wake time
Wake up at the same time every day, including weekends or days off. Waking at the same time every day actually helps you sleep better at night. A fixed wake time helps build a strong desire for sleep throughout wakefulness. This sleep drive gradually builds, and shortening it by sleeping in will make it harder to fall asleep the next night. Sleeping in on the weekend makes it much more difficult to wake up earlier on Monday morning.
It’s also important to do some relaxing activity, recommends Dr. Drerup, like taking a warm bath or reading a book before bedtime. By making these activities part of your bedtime ritual, you can train yourself to associate these activities with sleep. This association will help you move more easily into slumber.
3. Put away the smart phones and tablets
Electronic devices keep your mind humming — and far from the relaxed state you need to achieve before bedtime. Dr. Drerup advises it’s a good idea to put away devices like smart phones and tablets at least one hour before bedtime.
4. If you do wake up during the night, avoid looking at the clock
“The minute you look at that time it’s not just looking at one number,” Dr. Drerup says. “You start mental calculations, you think about how long it’s been since you’ve been in bed and what you have to do the next day. And before you know it, a long time has passed and that cuts into your sleep time.”
Make time for down time
“In our society, nowadays, people aren’t getting enough sleep. They put sleep so far down on their priority list because there are so many other things to do — family, personal stuff and work life,” Dr. Drerup notes. “These are challenges, but if people understand how important adequate sleep is, and how to sleep better, it makes a huge difference.”
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
What is sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation means you’re not getting enough sleep. For most adults, the amount of sleep needed for best health is 7 to 8 hours each night.
When you get less sleep than that, as many people do, it can eventually lead to many health problems. These can include forgetfulness, being less able to fight off infections, and even mood swings and depression.
What causes sleep deprivation?
Sleep deprivation is not a specific disease. It’s usually the result of other illnesses or from life circumstances.
Sleep deprivation is becoming more common. Many people try to adjust their schedule to get as much done as possible, and sleep is sacrificed.
Sleep deprivation also becomes a greater problem as people grow older. Older adults probably need as much sleep as younger adults, but they typically sleep more lightly. They also sleep for shorter time spans than younger people. Half of all people older than 65 have frequent sleeping problems.
Sleep deprivation can occur for a number of reasons:
- Sleep disorder. These include insomnia, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, and restless legs syndrome.
- Aging. People older than 65 have trouble sleeping because of aging, medicine they’re taking, or health problems they’re having.
- Illness. Sleep deprivation is common with depression, schizophrenia, chronic pain syndrome, cancer, stroke, and Alzheimer disease.
- Other factors. Many people have occasional sleep deprivation for other reasons. These include stress, a change in schedule, or a new baby disrupting their sleep schedule.
What are the symptoms of sleep deprivation?
At first, sleep deprivation may cause minor symptoms. But over time, these symptoms can become more serious.
Early sleep deprivation symptoms may include:
- Inability to concentrate
- Memory problems
- Less physical strength
- Less ability to fight off infections
Sleep deprivation problems over time may include:
- Increased risk for depression and mental illness
- Increased risk for stroke and asthma attack
- Increased risk for potentially life-threatening problems. These include car accidents, and untreated sleep disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, and narcolepsy.
- Severe mood swings
How is sleep deprivation diagnosed?
Sleep specialists say that one of the telltale signs of sleep deprivation is feeling drowsy during the day. In fact, even if a task is boring, you should be able to stay alert during it if you are not sleep-deprived. If you often fall asleep within 5 minutes of lying down, then you likely have severe sleep deprivation. People with sleep deprivation also have “microsleeps.” These are brief periods of sleep during waking time. In many cases, sleep-deprived people may not even be aware that they are having these microsleeps.
If you have any of these warning signs listed above, see your doctor or ask for a referral to a sleep specialist. Your doctor will ask you detailed questions to get a better sense of the nature of your sleeping problems.
In some cases, if your doctor thinks you have a more serious and possibly life-threatening sleep disorder such sleep apnea, then the sleep specialist may do a test called a sleep study (polysomnography). This test actually monitors your breathing, heart rate, and other vital signs during an entire night of sleep. It gives the sleep specialist useful information to help diagnose and treat your underlying disorder.
How is sleep deprivation treated?
Treatments for sleep deprivation vary based on how severe it is. In some cases, your doctor may want you to try self-care methods before turning to medicine. Your doctor may prescribe sleeping pills. But keep in mind that they tend to work less well after a few weeks. They can actually disrupt your sleep. Sometime insomnia is caused by an adjustment in your body clock. This is called a circadian rhythm disorder. For this, your doctor may have you try light therapy. It can help your body’s internal clock readjust and allow you to sleep more restfully.
If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor may prescribe a special breathing machine to use while you sleep. It’s called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure). This machine gives you a continuous flow of air through a mask. This help keep your airway open.
Can sleep deprivation be prevented?
If your sleep deprivation is mild, these simple strategies may help you to get a better night’s sleep:
- Exercise at least 20 to 30 minutes each day, at least 5 to 6 hours before going to bed. This will make you more likely to fall asleep later in the day.
- Don’t use substances that contain caffeine, nicotine, or alcohol. Any of these can disrupt your regular sleep patterns. Quitting smoking is always a good idea.
How to manage sleep deprivation
Creating a relaxing bedtime routine often helps conquer sleep deprivation and give you a good night’s sleep. This can include taking a warm bath, reading, or meditating. Let your mind drift peacefully to sleep. But don’t eat a large meal just before bed. It can make it hard to sleep.
Another step that may help you to get a good night’s sleep is sticking to a consistent schedule. This, means that you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If possible, waking up with the sun is a good way to reset your body’s clock more naturally.
Also keep your bedroom at a reasonable temperature. A bedroom that is too hot or too cold can disrupt sleep.
If you’re having trouble sleeping, try doing something else like reading a book for a few minutes. The anxiety of not being able to fall asleep can actually make sleep deprivation worse for some people.
Finally, see a doctor if your problems with sleep deprivation continue. Don’t let sleep problems linger.
Key points about sleep deprivation
- Sleep deprivation is not a specific disease. It’s usually the result of other illnesses or life circumstances.
- Sleep deprivation can become a greater problem as people grow older.
- One of the telltale signs of sleep deprivation is feeling drowsy during the day.
- Treatments for sleep deprivation vary based on how severe it is.
- Creating a relaxing bedtime routine often helps to conquer sleep deprivation and get a good night’s sleep.
- The anxiety of not being able to fall asleep can actually make sleep deprivation worse for some people.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.
Updated September 9, 2022
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1. You are going to bed at the wrong time, for YOU.
Remember you have a specific chronotype (Early Bird, Night Owl etc), and if you wake up, at a time that is not consistent with your chronotype, it can make mornings miserable. For example if you are a Night owl (what I call a Wolf in my Chronotype Quiz) and you are waking up at 6 am, even if you went to bed at 10 (giving you 8 hours to sleep), you will still feel terrible, because your brain still wants to produce Melatonin, while you are trying to wake up!
Solution: If you want to learn about your chronotype, and when to go to bed, check out my free quiz at chronoquiz.com or get a free copy of my audiobook here.
2. You stay in bed too long
Many of my patients tell me that they hit the snooze 4-10 times while trying to get up in the am. This is a terrible idea and here is why: the average snooze button is about 7-9 minutes long, this does not give your brain the time it needs to get back into a deeper more refreshing stage of sleep. So, during the last 30-60 min of shuteye you are actually getting broken, fragmented sleep.
Solution: Set your alarm for the last minute until you need to get up. Or if you MUST have a snooze, then limit it to one time.
3. Your bedroom environment is disturbing your sleep.
There are many different things that can be impacting your sleep in your bedroom. For one, your environment’s temperature is crucial to your sleep quality, so consider turning the A/C down or trying out a cooling mattress to help set the stage for restful sleep. To start, I look around the room based on the 5 senses and see what is being impacted. If you want to learn more about exactly how to create a perfect sleeping environment check out my blog. But if you want to do just one thing, I suggest limiting blue light exposure at night. Remember blue light will keep Melatonin from being produced, which is critical for good rest.
Solution: Good Night Melatonin filtering blue light bulbs you can use the code Breus17 and get 10% off and these blue light blocking glasses, especially if you ever use a device at night (these should be on EVERY person’s bedside table)
4. Your Bedpartner is keeping you from getting good sleep.
Did you know that if you sleep next to a snoring bedpartner YOU lose an hour of sleep each night? Yes, it is true. But have you tried to get them to stop snoring and it failed? It’s likely because you’ve been trying incorrect solutions. Did you know that there are 3 different types of snorers?
Solution: Check out my new Snoring Quiz to learn more about the type of snorer you have in your bed, and what solutions can be personalized for them, trust me you will be thankful that you did and most are very simple and inexpensive to use. And, if your bed mate is keeping you up not from an abundance of snoring, but rather from tossing and turning too much, consider trying out a memory foam mattress that limits motion so you can rest uninterrupted.
5. You ate or drank something that is reducing your sleep quality.
The two biggest issues are alcohol and caffeine. While alcohol may make you feel sleepy, it actually keeps you out of the deep stages of sleep, which makes you feel awful in the morning, for more info check out my blog on the topic. Caffeine does that same thing, this stimulant keeps your brain out of the deeper stages of sleep, which also makes sleep unrefreshing.
Solution: Stop caffeine by 2pm and stop alcohol 3 hours before bed. Caffeine has a half-life of 6-8 hours so stopping by 2 means that by 10 at least ½ is out of your system. As for alcohol, it takes the average human 1 hour to metabolize 1 alcoholic beverage, so if you have 2-3 glasses with dinner, make sure it is out of your system before bed, by waiting 3 hours.
6. You could have a sleep disorder.
While the symptoms may be mild, there are many sleep disorders that can affect sleep quality. A typical one is sleep apnea, but others include Narcolepsy, Insomnia, and Restless Legs Syndrome. But when is it time to see a sleep doctor and do a sleep study?
Solution: Check out this blog post on When to do a Sleep Study.
All of these and even more reasons are addressed in my Sleep Coaching Course “Get Better Sleep” which you can do all on your own for less than the cost of a bottle of “sleep” medication.
We only recommend products in our blog that we recommend in our office. We may receive a small commission on some products but it does not change the price you pay (unless we offer you a money saving discount).
There are dozens of different hormones that work together in your body to help keep you healthy inside and out. But of the many hormones in your body, which hormones affect sleep?
You may be familiar with one or two hormones affecting your sleep, but some may surprise you.
Before we list the top hormones affecting your sleep quality, you should first understand the role your sleep plays in regulating and producing your body’s hormones.
The Role of Sleep in Hormone Production
While you sleep each night, your body is hard at work recovering from the previous day and preparing for the next. Part of this process involves producing and regulating many of your body’s hormones.
Hormones are chemical messengers that act as messenger molecules in your body. These hormones are responsible for maintaining your bodily functions, including but not limited to:
- Hunger, appetite, and blood sugar
- Circadian rhythm and your sleep-wake cycle
- Sexual function
- Body temperature
- Cardiovascular function
- Muscle and tissue repair
A good night’s sleep is vital to healthy hormone production and secretion.
Poor sleep quality and short sleep duration can hinder not only hormone levels, but how your hormones are produced and how they interact with each other. This can lead to hormone imbalance as well as any comorbidities that can result from that imbalance, like thyroid diseases, sexual dysfunction, and even sleep disorders.
Hormones that Affect Sleep
While sleep is instrumental to hormone production, some of your body’s hormones can impact your sleep quality as well. Here are five vital hormones that can impact your sleep quality for better or for worse.
Often referred to as the “sleep hormone,” melatonin is directly responsible for promoting healthy rest and regulating your body’s circadian rhythm. Most of your body’s hormones are produced in your brain’s pituitary gland— melatonin is produced in the pineal gland, which is associated with your sleep-wake cycle.
Sleep disruption or poor quality sleep can negatively impact your body’s melatonin production. And because a good night’s sleep is so important to your overall health and wellbeing, it’s vital to manage melatonin with proper sleep.
Many Americans don’t get enough quality rest each night, and many take a melatonin supplement to help them sleep. As a result, melatonin is one of the most commonly taken health supplements today.
Progesterone and Estrogen
Although these two hormones are best known for their roles in women’s reproductive health, both men and women produce progesterone and estrogen.
Estrogen, the main “female” sex hormone controls a woman’s menstruation cycle. There are three main types of estrogen: estradiol, estriol, and estrone. These forms of estrogen are produced at different times in a woman’s life, such as during childbearing age, pregnancy, and menopause.
Progesterone helps maintain pregnancy, and its levels are at its highest during that time.
Progesterone levels and estrogen levels fluctuate during the various stages of a woman’s life, influencing sleep quality along the way. This happens most frequently around the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.
Many women report sleeping poorly during these times, especially if they experience side effects like menstrual cramping, body pain during pregnancy, or hot flashes during menopause. Because of these hormonal changes, women are more likely to experience insomnia than men.
Similar to progesterone and estrogen, testosterone is produced in all bodies, and isn’t just the “male” sex hormone. In both men and women, testosterone works to support reproductive health and bone health.
Testosterone levels fluctuate during the day, and they’re at their highest during REM sleep. If you’re not getting enough REM sleep, it can affect your body’s testosterone levels.
Reduced testosterone can sometimes be linked to snoring and insomnia symptoms as well, which can create a vicious cycle of reduced testosterone levels and poor sleep.
Sleep regulates cortisol, often known as the “stress hormone.” However, this isn’t cortisol’s main purpose. Along with melatonin, cortisol is key to maintaining your sleep pattern.
When you wake up, your cortisol level temporarily spikes, helping to wake you up and feel refreshed as melatonin production reduces. As you approach your bedtime, cortisol production reduces as melatonin production ramps up, helping your body prepare for sleep.
Elevated cortisol levels can negatively impact your sleep, most often as a result of stress and electronic devices suppressing your body’s melatonin production.
Do Hormones Cause Insomnia?
Not exactly. While some hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone can contribute to insomnia— especially in premenstrual women, pregnant women, and women in menopause— those problems are temporary and resolve once hormone levels return to normal.
However, not getting enough sleep to start can affect your hormones, which can cause future sleep problems. To make matters worse, this can create a vicious cycle of poor sleep and hormone imbalance.
While your hormones may not be entirely to blame for insomnia, they are actually closely connected to another sleep disorder— sleep apnea.
Sleep-disordered breathing and sleep apnea can impact hormone levels, which in turn can exacerbate breathing difficulties at night. Having sleep apnea may be at increased risk of developing metabolic or endocrine disorders as well, due to the hormonal imbalance.
Some sleep issues will go away on their own, but if you’re experiencing consistently poor sleep, sleep loss, or daytime sleepiness alongside hormone imbalance, then you may have a sleep disorder.
If you have a sleep disorder, it won’t go away on its own. It’s important to seek a professional evaluation, either with your doctor or a certified sleep expert.
It’s natural for your hormones to fluctuate throughout the day and night— but they shouldn’t prevent you from getting a good night’s sleep. Contact us today at the Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee to start getting back to the restful and rejuvenating sleep you need.
Many of us toss and turn or watch the clock when we can’t sleep for a night or two. But for some, a restless night is routine.
More than 40 million Americans suffer from chronic, long-term sleep disorders, and an additional 20 million report sleeping problems occasionally, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Stress and anxiety may cause sleeping problems or make existing problems worse. And having an anxiety disorder exacerbates the problem.
Sleep disorders are characterized by abnormal sleep patterns that interfere with physical, mental, and emotional functioning. Stress or anxiety can cause a serious night without sleep, as do a variety of other problems.
Insomnia is the clinical term for people who have trouble falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, waking too early in the morning, or waking up feeling unrefreshed.
Other common sleep disorders include sleep apnea (loud snoring caused by an obstructed airway), sleepwalking, and narcolepsy (falling asleep spontaneously). Restless leg syndrome and bruxism (grinding of the teeth while sleeping) are conditions that also may contribute to sleep disorders.
Anxiety Disorder or Sleep Disorder: Which Comes First?
Either one. Anxiety causes sleeping problems, and new research suggests sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder.
Research also shows that some form of sleep disruption is present in nearly all psychiatric disorders. Studies also show that people with chronic insomnia are at high risk of developing an anxiety disorder.
The risks of inadequate sleep extend way beyond tiredness. Sleeplessness can lead to poor performance at work or school, increased risk of injury, and health problems.
In addition to anxiety and mood disorders, those with sleep disorders are risk for heart disease, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and obesity.
If you suspect you have a sleep disorder, visit a primary care physician, mental health professional, or sleep disorders clinic. Treatment options include sleep medicine and cognitive-behavior therapy, which teaches how to identify and modify behaviors that perpetuate sleeping problems.
Treatment options for an anxiety disorder also include cognitive-behavior therapy, as well as relaxation techniques, and medication. Your doctor or therapist may recommend one or a combination of these treatments. Learn more about treatment options.
Reduce Anxiety, Sleep Soundly
To reduce anxiety and stress:
- Meditate. Focus on your breath — breathe in and out slowly and deeply — and visualize a serene environment such as a deserted beach or grassy hill.
- Exercise. Regular exercise is good for your physical and mental health. It provides an outlet for frustrations and releases mood-enhancing endorphins. Yoga can be particularly effective at reducing anxiety and stress.
- Prioritize your to-do list. Spend your time and energy on the tasks that are truly important, and break up large projects into smaller, more easily managed tasks. Delegate when you can.
- Play music. Soft, calming music can lower your blood pressure and relax your mind and body.
- Get an adequate amount of sleep. Sleeping recharges your brain and improves your focus, concentration, and mood.
- Direct stress and anxiety elsewhere. Lend a hand to a relative or neighbor, or volunteer in your community. Helping others will take your mind off of your own anxiety and fears.
- Talk to someone. Let friends and family know how they can help, and consider seeing a doctor or therapist.
To sleep more soundly:
- Make getting a good night’s sleep a priority. Block out seven to nine hours for a full night of uninterrupted sleep, and try to wake up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Avoid stimulants like coffee, chocolate, and nicotine before going to sleep, and never watch TV, use the computer, or pay bills before going to bed. Read a book, listen to soft music, or meditate instead.
- Make sure your bedroom is cool, dark, and quiet. Consider using a fan to drown out excess noise, and make sure your mattress and pillows are comfortable.
- Use your bedroom as a bedroom — not for watching TV or doing work — and get into bed only when you are tired. If you don’t fall asleep within 15 minutes, go to another room and do something relaxing.
- Regular exercise will help you sleep better, but limit your workouts to mornings and afternoons.
- Avoid looking at the clock. This can make you anxious in the middle of the night. Turn the clock away from you.
- Talk to your doctor if you still have problems falling asleep. You may need a prescription or herbal sleep remedy.
Sleep disturbance or insomnia is commonplace when you have chronic pain. Both these conditions are usually influenced by each other—while your pain can disrupt a restful night of sleep, lack of adequate sleep can exacerbate your pain symptoms. 1 , 2
Sleep disturbance from chronic pain can occur in many ways; you may find it difficult to fall asleep, awaken frequently at night, wake up very early in the morning, and/or feel unrefreshed or tired after your night’s sleep.
If you experience any of these insomnia symptoms, here are 5 little-known tips that may help you gain a healthy sleep routine:
1. Consume foods that may help promote sleep
Consuming certain foods in your evening meal may help increase the level of tryptophan in your body. Tryptophan is a type of protein that is essential for the production of the sleep-regulating hormone, serotonin. Increased tryptophan levels help reduce the time taken to fall asleep, promote more restful sleep, and improve alertness in the morning. 3 Examples of such sleep-promoting foods are 3 :
- Carbohydrates with a high glycemic index, such as rice.
- Fruits, such as cherries and kiwis.
- Whole foods, such as milk, pulses, fatty fish, and shellfish.
When you plan to make dietary changes, consult with your doctor to ensure that the new food or supplement that you try does not adversely affect any existing medical condition or medication that you may be taking. Also, consider abstaining from foods and drinks that may adversely affect your sleep, such as coffee, tea, and chocolates. These food contain caffeine and theobromine that may disrupt your sleep cycle. 3
2. Practice yoga daily
Yoga is a mind-body therapy and through the physical poses, rhythmic breathing, and meditation, yoga may help relieve chronic back pain and improve sleep. 4
It is advised to learn yoga from a licensed instructor, who can tailor the poses according to your tolerance level and the underlying cause of your back pain. Once you learn the specific yogic poses, you can practice them at home according to your convenience. If you experience pain or discomfort while doing a pose, make sure to inform your yoga instructor.
3. Take a short walk in the evening
If you work at an office, get minimal exercise, have chronic lower back pain, and find it difficult to fall asleep at night, an evening walk may help relieve your pain and promote better sleep. 5 , 6
When you walk, your core body temperature increases. This temperature then begins to drop due to the heat dissipation mechanisms of the body (such as increased blood flow to the skin). The resulting lower body temperature then helps trigger your sleep cycle. Walking may also reduce anxiety, promoting better sleep. 7
Including an evening walk in your daily routine may also be beneficial in reducing chronic lower back pain by strengthening your back and abdominal muscles and increasing flexibility in your lower back. 8 , 9
4. Take slow, deep breaths to get to sleep and fall back asleep
Slow, rhythmic breathing has calming mind-body effects and may help alleviate pain and stress, promoting sleep. Research indicates that taking slow and deep breaths before bedtime can help you get to sleep faster and fall back asleep in case you wake up during the night. 10
This type of breathing technique also helps synchronize your heart rate and breathing pattern, which may help promote deeper, restorative sleep. 10
5. Consider taking a sleep aid
Several sleep-enhancing preparations are available over the counter to help promote better sleep. While some are available as tea bags for brewing, others can be taken orally in the form of tablets or capsules. Here are a few common examples:
- Herbal preparations: Valerian capsules and chamomile tea 11 – 13
- Fruit extracts: Cherry juice or capsules of tart cherry extract 14
- Micronutrient supplements: Zinc and/or magnesium 15 – 17
- Synthetic preparations: Melatonin capsules or tablets 18
These supplements may help improve the onset, duration, and quality of sleep in some people.
When you are sleep deprived due to your chronic pain, it may be worth trying one or more of these little-known options to help you get more sleep. A process of trial and error will help you understand which option works best. If you’re not able to sleep well despite trying these tips, consult a doctor for prescription medications or other medical treatments.
The alarm goes off and you mutter some curse words. You’ve barely slept and all you want to do is shut out the world, but that’s not really an option.
There are plenty of helpful hints online about how to push through after a crappy sleep, but they’re not always based in fact.
So, what are some proven (and healthy) ways to get today’s jobs done when you’ve been up most of the night with noisy neighbours, a loud storm, a sleepless child or for no apparent reason at all?
Small disclaimer here: we’re talking about one or two bad nights, not days on end of no sleep with hallucination-inducing sleep deprivation. If you’re having regular disrupted sleep and it’s affecting life, please speak to a doctor.
Caffeine is your friend, but be strategic
The first thing many of us reach for when we’re feeling tired is a caffeinated drink.
Caffeine is “everyone’s favourite psychoactive drug” and it really does help us to be more alert and focused.
Siobhan Banks, co-director of the Behaviour-Brain-Body Research Centre, says a lack of sleep can dull our senses, making it harder for us to focus on tasks. She says caffeine can help with this.
“Where we know that caffeine is really good is with keeping you alert with things like driving, for example,” Professor Banks says.
Four signs you need sleep
Poor sleep affects everything from health to emotional intelligence. These are four warning signs of sleep deprivation and some small tweaks that can make your sleep that little bit better.
She says while caffeine can help you be safer while driving on the way home, it can have unwanted effects as well.
When we don’t get enough sleep our body gets an inflammatory response — our heart rate goes up, our blood pressure goes up, glucose is released into the blood.
This is our body working to keep us going until we can sleep again, but it makes us feel more stressed, on edge and a bit sick. Caffeine also raises our heart rate and can make us feel even more on edge, so it’s best not to drink a coffee if you’re already nervous, for example.
And if you’re sensitive to caffeine, it can stop you from sleeping and therefore compound any sleep loss.
“It’s just being aware of using caffeine in a more strategic way,” Professor Banks says.
And it’s not just caffeine you’re drinking. Depending on whether you have a short black, mocha, caffeinated soft drink or energy drink, the liquid often has extra sugars, fats, proteins and chemicals — so watch what you slurp.
- Verdict: Caffeine can help you focus for short periods of time to help you get through the day, but be careful about your tolerance and what else you consume with it.
Eating can make you feel better, but not wake you up more
Professor Banks says research does show shift workers often snack more than regular-hour workers, but it’s more a psychological mood boost than helping the body cope with disrupted sleep.
How to beat afternoon sleepiness
We asked three experts how to deal with mid-afternoon sleepiness.
If you’ve got that churning feeling in your stomach from being tired, having a snack can help you feel better, says Gorica Micic from the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, but it won’t cure your tiredness.
And if you reach for a chocolate bar to help you get through, it might make things worse in the long run.
“Eating sugary foods will give us an immediate boost in energy, but then it is generally followed by a quite steep drop in energy,” she says.
- Verdict: Having a snack can help your body feel better, but it won’t wake you up.
Drink water (in case you’re dehydrated as well as tired)
Dehydration can feel similar to how you feel after a bad night’s sleep — cottonwool in your head, raised heart rate, finding it hard to concentrate and maybe a bit moody or grumpy.
Professor Banks says many, if not most, adults are a bit dehydrated most of the time, so drinking more water is never a bad idea.
“There’s nothing wrong with having some water. It will make you feel better and get rid of any dehydration,” Professor Banks says.
But unlike caffeine, water doesn’t help your alertness, so again, it’s not a fix for a lack of sleep.
- Verdict: Being hydrated is a good idea all the time and can make you feel better, but water doesn’t combat true sleepiness.
Get up and move — in the sunlight if you can
If your day is quite sedentary when you’re sleepy, it can make you feel even dozier.
“Changing posture, moving about … getting out during the day and taking a walk around the building, especially if it’s a sunny day, that will have great healthful impacts on your alertness and also your general wellbeing,” Professor Banks says.
Getting sunlight on your face in the morning can help your body shut off melatonin, the chemical we produce for sleep, says Moira Junge, a health psychologist with the Sleep Health Foundation.
“If you’re walking to the station or driving, wherever possible [don’t wear] sunglasses in the morning so you get that light in to suppress your melatonin,” Dr Junge says.
- Verdict: Moving your body can make you feel more alert, and sunlight can help shoo away sleep hormones, but it won’t solve your problem entirely.
Can you squeeze in a powernap? That might help
You can go for as many walks, drink as much caffeine and eat all the sugar in the world — nothing will cure your tiredness other than sleep.
“A brief power nap can combat the effects of sleepiness,” Dr Micic says.
“But the key is to keep the naps short, no longer than 10 minutes. Because after longer naps of half an hour or an hour we can actually start to feel worse.”
7 sleep myths
To separate sleep fact from fiction, we asked the experts to weigh in on common sleep myths.
Professor Banks says naps can be great for people like parents of newborns who need to grab sleep when they can, but they can be a bit of a trap for others.
“Anyone who is having trouble getting off to sleep at night, I wouldn’t recommend them having a nap,” she says.
The longer we don’t sleep, the stronger the need for sleep becomes, and this can be helpful for someone who has a lot of trouble getting to sleep at night.
“Keep that sleep pressure so it helps you get off to sleep at night,” Professor Banks says.
- Verdict: If you don’t have a sleep problem and just need to catch up a bit, a nap is great. Keep them short and don’t nap if you have trouble getting to sleep at night.
Are weekend sleep-ins always bad?
If you have a lot of trouble getting to sleep at night, messing up your bedtime over a weekend can add to that problem.
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Why your brain keeps you awake with a flood of negative thoughts and what you can do about it.
But Dr Junge says if you don’t usually have problems with sleep, “catching up” with a sleep-in on the weekend can help you feel better.
“If you don’t have a sleep problem … feel free to catch up a little on the weekend,” she says.
“But the advice generally … is to keep it fairly consistent.”
- Verdict: Those of us without sleep problems can benefit from a bit of a lie-in, but if you struggle with keeping a sleep routine, try not to change on the weekends.
This is general information only. For detailed personal advice, you should see a qualified medical practitioner who knows your medical history.