The Connection Between Sleep Patterns and Sex Hormones
Most people are aware that getting more sleep is good for them, but they may not know exactly how. And this is not just having more pep in your step in the morning. It’s important to realize how much sleep you do or don’t get can influence the balance of your hormones, which impacts many aspects of your quality of life.
However, getting enough sleep is easier said than done. There’s a vicious circle in place: A busy lifestyle can make it difficult to get enough rest, which can upset hormonal balance (among other health factors), which in turn may lead to feelings of fatigue and irritability, making it even more difficult to get a full seven to nine hours of sleep.
You can break that vicious circle, but only if you learn how to set yourself up for a successful night’s rest.
How sleep, hormones & sex interact
Sleep functions as a biological replenisher for our hormones. The amount of time we sleep each night plays into our body’s health, specifically in regard to chemicals in our brains.
Sex hormones and sleep hormones are regulated in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. When we grow tired, our hypothalamus releases the hormone melatonin, letting the body know it needs to sleep. Regularly interrupting this release makes sleep deprivation more likely.
A study by the University of Chicago showed that sleep deprivation, in turn, lowers sex drive. When the brain is not allowed to properly rest, the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen are not released in the right amounts, causing a reduction in libido. This same effect may indicate a link between disordered sleep and erectile dysfunction (ED).
In addition to affecting arousal, an imbalance in estrogen and testosterone can cause a feeling of irritability. These symptoms alone reduce anyone’s desire for sex, and adding a lack of sleep into the mix creates that vicious cycle.
Get a good night’s rest
Sleep is important, and everyone should focus on getting a good night’s sleep. On average, we sleep for one-third of our entire life span. It’s recommended that adults get seven to nine hours of sleep per night to achieve an effective and regular biological reset. It’s not always easy, though.
Electronics, specifically the blue light emitted from screens, are thought to wreak havoc on our circadian rhythms. The natural cycles of daylight trigger healthy melatonin release, but blue light disrupts these light cycles by tricking the brain into inhibiting melatonin.
Using blue light filters can help, as can taking a melatonin supplement. But many people opt for a different solution, such as taking hypnotics or sedatives, or self-medicating with alcohol. These solutions all add to the havoc being played on our natural circadian rhythm and brain chemistry.
Diet and exercise are also vital to maintaining the sleep cycle, so stay active and avoid caffeine after 4 p.m. If you have trouble falling asleep, consider downloading a meditation app or doing some light stretching to relax. Also, avoid charging your phone or tablet on your nightstand, and don’t have a TV in the bedroom.
Getting sufficient rest at night is crucial to overall health. Not doing so can cause issues such as low libido, fatigue and irritability. Some initial evidence also suggests lack of sleep might play into, or at least worsen, erectile dysfunction in men. By considering daily habits like limiting electronics use at night or setting aside some time to wind down each evening—read a printed book or invest in an electronic ink device that uses minimal light—you can dodge these pitfalls, get the most out of your night and, just as important, have better days.