Stress. Sleep. Hormones. They’re all connected and happen to be some of the biggest issues women face.
If you’re overwhelmed, burnt out and exhausted, it’s smart to address any stress, sleep and hormone imbalance you might be experiencing. We all deserve to feel our absolute best. Keeping stress levels low, regularly getting a good night’s sleep and maintaining hormone balance are key for balanced wellbeing.
Here we’ll take a deeper look at this connection between stress, sleep and hormones to better understand just how important it is to maintain a harmonious balance between them.
Understanding The Stress, Sleep & Hormone Connection
Not sleeping like you know you should be? Are your stress levels keeping you from experiencing a sense of real calm? Are your hormones making you moody? Are you experiencing all of the above?
You’re not alone. There aren’t many women who can say they’re sleeping sounding 7-9 hours each night, breezing through each day stress free and making it through their menstrual cycle sans symptoms of PMS.
It’s no secret that stress levels are at an all-time high. And if you’re one of almost 75% of U.S. adults that’s recently experienced moderate to high levels of stress, you’re well aware of how this stress can impact your sleep. Whether disturbed sleep or full-blown insomnia, stress and lack of sleep go hand in hand.
Not only can stress lead to poor sleep, but poor sleep can further increase our stress. It’s a vicious cycle that can make you feel crazy when you’re caught up in it. Understanding how to naturally support stress and healthy sleep cycles is vital for both mental and physical wellbeing.
Then there’s the role your hormones play in the connection of stress and sleep. Have you ever stopped to think about the role your hormones might play in the whole stress/sleep cycle? We hear a lot about hormone health, but are you really aware of how important hormones really are when it comes to sleep and stress?
While most of us think of our menstrual cycle when we hear the word hormone, there are several other hormones in the body that have nothing to do with experiencing PMS or annoying periods.
Let’s learn a little bit more.
What Are Hormones?
There’s a lot of talk about hormones, but do you know what they really are? Hormones are the body’s chemical messengers, responsible for carrying information through the blood to your tissues, skin, muscles, and organs.
Over 50 hormones have been discovered, each of them serving their own unique purpose for supporting balanced health and wellbeing. They’re produced and released by the endocrine system, a system of glands throughout the body that governs hormone production, regulation and release.
What do hormones do? They’re actually responsible for quite a bit. Some of the functions regulated by hormones include:
- Sexual function/drive
- Growth and development
- Sleep/wake cycle
Seeing as hormones regulate pretty much everything in the body, it’s easy to understand how they might impact both sleep and stress.
Hormones & Sleep
We all know how good getting a good night’s sleep feels, but we don’t tend to think about what’s happening to the body when we’re sleeping. Sleep is the body’s time to repair and rejuvenate.
It’s during this deeply restorative process when many of the body’s hormones are produced and regulated, and getting a good night’s sleep is vital for healthy hormone production and proper hormone secretion.
What happens to hormones when you don’t get sufficient sleep? Poor sleep quality not only depletes hormone levels, but also changes the way hormones interact with each other when chemical messages are being relayed. Ultimately this can lead to serious hormone imbalance and the myriad of health problems that can result from this imbalance.
Not only does sleep influence hormones, but there are certain hormones that influence the quality of our sleep. When it comes to sleep, stress and hormones, melatonin and cortisol both play a vital role. Following you’ll find a bit more about the profound influence of melatonin and cortisol on your state of sleep and your state of stress.
Melatonin, Sleep & Stress
Responsible for regulating the body’s circadian rhythm and promoting feelings of relaxation, melatonin is commonly referred to as the “sleep hormone.” It’s produced by the pineal gland and production increases in the evening after dark. Melatonin production then peaks between 2-4 am, and then finally dips to its lowest levels after sunrise. This happens every day in a 24-hour period as part of the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.
Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for proper melatonin production, and proper melatonin production is vital for getting a good night’s sleep. When melatonin levels are balanced it’s much easier to fall and stay asleep through the night, and it’s only when we get sufficient sleep that melatonin is properly produced. Getting a good night’s sleep is vital for proper melatonin production, as insufficient or disrupted sleep both show to negatively impact melatonin levels.
What about the connection between melatonin and stress?
Aside from its role in maintaining sleep homeostasis, melatonin also plays a role in moderating stress. Melatonin is known as a powerful antioxidant known to reduce oxidative stress while supporting the neurological response, ultimately bringing an increased sense of calm to both mind and body.
Even though melatonin shows to support the stress response, chronic stress can lead to an imbalance in melatonin production. One study found that stress can impair pineal gland function, ultimately leading to an increase in melatonin production. Too much melatonin can have the opposite effect of its sedative-like properties, causing people to feel more awake than sleepy.
Cortisol, Sleep & Stress
Cortisol is the body’s stress hormone, best known for producing the famous “fight or flight” response during times of perceived stress or danger. It’s also responsible for controlling blood sugar metabolism, blood pressure and inflammation. Along with melatonin, cortisol also plays a large role in the body’s sleep/wake cycle.
During a 24-hour period, cortisol levels rise and fall to influence the sleep/wake cycle. This natural ebb and flow of cortisol helps you fall asleep at a regular bedtime, stay asleep through the night, and wake up around the same time each morning. Cortisol levels drop to their lowest point around midnight, and surge in the morning, naturally transitioning us to a wakeful state.
While cortisol is produced while we’re sleeping, cortisol secretion is inhibited during sleep. If you’re not getting enough sleep, the body doesn’t have enough time to inhibit proper cortisol production, which can cause an increase of cortisol levels during the day. One study found that missing just 2-3 hours of sleep can lead to a surge in cortisol until the following evening.
Cortisol levels naturally rise and fall throughout the day, and a little extra burst of cortisol here and there isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Released as part of the body’s stress response, a bit of cortisol can offer a quick burst of energy, increase alertness and even offer a quick surge of increased immunity.
Everyone has their own unique reactions to stress, however, and the way we react to stress is based on our own personal life experience. Some people release more cortisol when stressed than others, even when in the same situation.
Chronic stress is widely believed to lead to increased cortisol levels. This means the common everyday stressors that never seem to end can elevate cortisol levels to a point where the body is basically in a perpetual state of fight or flight, even when you aren’t consciously aware of it.
Ultimately, this can wreak havoc on your sleep. High cortisol doesn’t just make it difficult to fall asleep. High cortisol levels are also associated with depression and anxiety, both of which can have a profound effect on sleep.
Stress, Sleep & Other Hormones
While cortisol and melatonin are two major hormones connected to sleep and stress, nearly every hormone in the body is released in response to the body’s sleep/wake cycle. When we ignore stress and poor sleep, our hormones will definitely let us know they’re disturbed.
Estrogen and Progesterone
Insufficient sleep caused by stress can indirectly cause imbalances to reproductive hormones. Did you know estrogen and progesterone are signaled by cortisol first thing each morning? If you don’t sleep well, it can disrupt cortisol production, which can ultimately modify the release of estrogen and progesterone. These two very important reproductive hormones are also an integral part of melatonin production, which we know is vital for sleep.
What else does sleep do aside from regenerate every cell in our body? It regulates metabolism. And when we don’t get the sleep we need, it will directly affect the production and amount of hunger hormones in the body.
Our hunger hormones include leptin, insulin, and ghrelin. They’re responsible for how we experience hunger and fullness and play a huge role in how the food we eat is used for energy by the body. When we don’t sleep, the intimate balance of these hormones is thrown out of whack, which can lead to weight gain and insulin resistance. In turn, insulin resistance can lead to cravings for carbs and other unhealthy foods.
Lack of sleep actually triggers cravings for junk foods, which all comes down to an imbalance of leptin and ghrelin. Research shows that when you don’t sleep enough, leptin levels drop and ghrelin levels skyrocket. The result is increased hunger during the day and increased cravings for high calorie, high sugar, high fat snacks in attempts to boost our energy levels. Considering the impact diet has on our mental wellbeing, giving in to these cravings can keep us in a perpetual loop of stress, lack of sleep and hormonal imbalance.
Maintaining Stress, Sleep & Hormonal Balance
Understanding the very real connection between stress, sleep and hormones can make it easier to understand why you regularly feel overwhelmed and exhausted. When we stress, we don’t sleep. When we don’t sleep, we stress. Stress and lack of sleep can also lead to some serious hormone imbalance, while hormone imbalance can lead to increased stress and poor sleep.
Are you beginning to see how connected stress, sleep and hormones really are?
There’s a delicate balance between sleep, stress and hormones that must be addressed if we’re to thrive and live our best lives. It’s vital that we realize self-care is a priority and engaging in different ways to reduce stress each day is critical for maintaining the balance of the stress, sleep and hormone connection.
You might use various meditation techniques for stress, look towards natural ways to support hormone balance and engage in ways to get a good night’s sleep. Our sleep, stress and hormones don’t just influence each other. They influence our overall health, wellbeing and vitality. By balancing the very intimate connection between them, we inspire increased balance in all areas of our lives.