How Hormones Cause Insomnia
When we sleep, our bodies restore and refresh themselves for the next part of your day. This is because sleeping helps regulate hormones that are involved in moods and emotions.
Sleep also aids in cleaning out the brain to make room for new information or memories. And while some people need more sleep, most adults require six to eight hours per night.
Hormonal changes can sometimes cause you to feel too awake during the sleep time. This may be due to overproduction of one hormone or another, or having too much cortisol (the stress-related hormone).
This article will discuss three main causes of insomnia that are related to hormonal imbalance.
The sleep-wake cycle is disrupted
When we are awake, our hormones get stimulated and remain that way because they are being fed energy via your body’s metabolism.
When you go to bed at night, your body naturally produces more of some chemicals (such as cortisol) and drops off of others (such as serotonin). This is what causes sleep to be interrupted — there’s just not enough of these chemicals in your system.
You may also find yourself getting up for things such as taking a shower or going to the bathroom too frequently during the night, both of which can cause insomnia.
Overall, this can make it difficult to get back into a sleeping pattern, and if you’re having trouble doing so, it might be due to hormone imbalance.
If you feel like your stress levels are high, try talking about how you’re feeling and work through any issues that may be causing emotional distress. Also talk about any health problems you’ve got, and see if anything is related to hormonal balance.
The sleep-wake cycle is out of balance
When you are awake, your body is in an active phase of growth and exploration. This is when hormones such as cortisol (a stress hormone) and adrenaline/noradrenaline cause us to be more alert and motivated.
When you are asleep, these hormones begin to drop down levels, which causes some people to feel sleepy. For other individuals, this can even induce sleeping disorders, where they stay awake all night long without any rest!
This is because when those hormones drop off, our brains switch off sleep mode and start thinking about things.
If someone with insomnia stays up late every day, their bodies get used to staying awake longer and longer each time, which only makes it take longer for them to get into bed and relax.
Making things worse, once those sleep nerves are overstimulated, they may continue to keep going at that level until morning, when we wake up.
Brain chemicals that affect sleep are affected
When you’re in your twenties, your body doesn’t need as many rest and relaxation hormones like cortisol and serotonin. That’s because you’re still developing, and experiencing changes related to growth and puberty.
As we age, our bodies start to slow down development of certain tissues, which can cause your waistline to expand (due to bone tissue) and skin to become thinner and more wrinkled.
But when there aren’t enough hormones around, it can be difficult to get some much-needed ZZZs.
Hormonal shifts during perimenopause and menopausal years are often accompanied by symptoms such as mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats and general stress. All of these things can make sleeping tough.
Luckily, most people find that hormonal health improves after menopause, so this is an important time to work on sleep if needed. But for those who feel stuck, sleep supplements may help.
Dopamine is affected
When we are awake, dopamine levels drop. This happens because as your body gets ready to sleep, it decreases activity in our brains to reduce arousal.
When you wake up in the morning, serotonin and endorphin levels remain high due to all of these effects.
But by early evening, as the day comes to an end and you start to feel sleepy, there isn’t much left of either of those hormones.
This can cause insomnia, especially for people who suffer from depression or anxiety.
Research shows that depressed and anxious individuals have lower night-time dopamine levels than non-depressed individuals.
That’s why they find it more difficult to get into a restful sleep when tired – even though they may not be feeling particularly stressed at the time.
Dopamine also plays a big role in feelings like happiness, so low levels of this hormone can contribute to mood swings and irritability during times of sleep deprivation.
How to boost dopamine while sleeping
Try timing your bedtime according to how busy your schedule is and what time you usually go to sleep.
Also, limit the amount of light you expose yourself to just before going to bed, as bright lights can decrease production of dopamine.
Certain foods such as berries and broccoli are good sources of tyrosine, which helps make dopamine. Try having some before bed to see if it improves your sleep.
Serotonin is affected
When you are in stressful situations, your body releases a hormone called serotonin. This helps regulate moods and sleep.
Serotonin regulates emotions and sleep by helping to promote relaxation and sleep. It also acts as a natural painkiller, which can help mitigate insomnia caused by stress or anxiety.
However, when there is too much of this chemical present in the body, it can have the opposite effect and cause trouble sleeping.
This overproduction of serotonin occurs when your brain perceives that you are under a lot of emotional stress.
When you try to relax for sleep, your body instead gets busy keeping yourself awake via the fight-or-flight response.
Allowing your body to calm down and fall asleep requires lowering of serotonin.
So how does overexposure to serotonin affect sleep?
It can make it more difficult to get quality sleep at night, and possibly even keep you up during the night.
Some ways that excessive serotonin affects sleep include:
Lowering the amount of sleep you get – because you stay awake longer trying to relax
Having frequent wakeful periods throughout the night
If possible, having a bedtime that seems to be a good time for you every week, but you still find yourself getting out of bed early each morning
More likely than not, these symptoms of insomnia are due to exposure to excess levels of serotonin.
Norepinephrine is affected
There are two different types of neurons in our body that play a major role in regulating sleep-wake cycles. One type is called noradrenergic, which comes from the term “nervous system” due to its close relation with nervous excitement or arousal.
The other kind of neuron we will look at here is known as adrenergic, which comes from the word ‘fightor flight’ because it relates to preparing your body for potential danger by experiencing stress.
Both kinds of neuron work together to regulate wakefulness. When you are awake, both adrenaline and norepinephrine levels rise, while when you are asleep, they drop. That’s why during sleep, the brain automatically tries to balance out these hormones.
When there is too much pressure, though, this can cause insomnia. This occurs when individuals feel stressed about something before bedtime, causing them to remain awake longer than necessary.
Something like having to give a talk next day may make someone restless so they stay up later to get some rest. Or maybe their job just got downgraded, making them worry about their future career.
Orexin is affected
Another hormone that can cause insomnia is orexin, also known as hypocretin-1. Orexins are chemicals in your body that help regulate sleep.
Oxytocin is another neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is related to orexin. Oxytocin helps keep relationships strong, so it’s not surprising that it can sometimes cause people who feel close to each other to stay awake late.
When you wake up in the morning, there isn’t much of this chemical left, which is why most people need more sleep at night than they do during the day.
But when there’s a lot of oxytocin floating around in the brain, it can leave some people feeling very sleepy later in the evening. This happens because the oxytocin makes it harder to get out sleep once bedtime comes.
And since lots of different things can trigger stress, having too much of this hormone can be a risk factor for insomnia.
Melatonin is affected
One of the most important hormones to have in your body is called melatonin. Melatonin helps regulate sleep-wake cycles, and when you are sleeping, it drops off naturally.
When you are awake, levels rise as they do not drop down while you are asleep. Because it takes time for your body to relax and let go during sleep, low melatonin can cause insomnia.
People with insomnia often try various strategies to increase their melatonin such as eating foods that boost production or taking supplements directly before bedtime.
Some studies show that light exposure at night may help restore normal sleep patterns by boosting production of serotonin, another hormone involved in sleep regulation.
You can also make sure your home environment is dark and quiet so that sleep doesn’t invite too much disturbance.