While there are many factors involved when it comes to sleep issues, imbalanced hormones can certainly play a role. If you're waking up at night, struggling to fall asleep, having hot flashes, or feeling on edge, for example, it could be a sign these chemical messengers are struggling, and as a result have set off a chain reaction that's impacted your sleep. Because hormones really do control way more than you might think.
"As hormones are linked to many physiological processes, such as development, reproduction, stress management, and metabolism, it is important to see how hormones affect sleeping patterns as well," Dr. Janelle Luk, a reproductive endocrinologist, tells Bustle. "If the homeostasis of your body is disrupted, it is likely that the imbalance of hormones can cause sleep irregularities."
As far as what can throw off your hormones, stress is always a big one, as it really can take a toll on your body. "Cortisol levels increase and decrease based on stress levels, [and] that also impact sleep," Mona Dan, LAc., MTOM, herbalist, acupuncturist, and founder of Vie Healing, tells Bustle.
But an imbalance of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and other hormones steal sleep from you, too. Read on below for some sleep issues you may experience if your hormones are struggling, as well as which ones may be to blame, according to experts.
Stress can lead to a restless night's sleep, due to its impact on cortisol levels within the body, hormone expert Nisha Jackson, PhD, MS, WHCNP, HHP, tells Bustle. So if you lead a stressful life, this stress hormone may be what's causing you to toss and turn.
When your cortisol levels are too high, you might feel tired during the day, then experience a "tired but wired" feeling at night, Dr. Jackson says, making it difficult to fall asleep. And that can lead to a vicious cycle.
Luckily, there are plenty of natural ways to lower your cortisol levels, including getting more exercise, meditating, and hanging out with friends as a way to de-stress.
2. Waking Up At Night
Melatonin is a hormone that helps you fall asleep. But if you don't have enough of it, you might find that you can't stay asleep.
"Melatonin levels are affected by the amount of external light [you're exposed to]," Dr. Obianuju Helen Okoye, MD, MBA, MS-Epi, tells Bustle. "So [you need] to have an environment that encourages sleep. Otherwise you may find yourself asleep for three to four hours, and awake once the melatonin levels diminish."
To help melatonin production, make sure your bedroom is dark at night, and limit the amount of artificial light you take in right before bed. "Artificial light, including the kind that is emitted from electronic devices [...] delays the release of melatonin, which can disrupt sleep," wellness consultant Stephanie Gailing, MS, tells Bustle.
That's why many sleep experts suggest putting your phone away before bed, turning off the TV, and possibly even getting a sleep mask to block out any extra light, so you can fall asleep and stay asleep.
3. Hot Flashes
While they don't typically occur until menopause, if you experience hot flashes at night, it could be a sign your estrogen levels are low, Dr. Jackson says. And because they're so uncomfortable, hot flashes can keep you up at night.
But that's not the only way estrogen can impact sleep. "Estrogen helps the body use serotonin and melatonin — the sleep brain chemicals," Dr. Jackson says. "Estrogen stimulates a higher quality of sleep with fewer awakenings and less time to fall asleep."
So if you're struggling in these areas, let a doctor know. There are plenty of ways to balance your estrogen levels, feel better, and hopefully get more sleep.
4. Sleep Disturbances
"Testosterone interacts with brain chemicals and stress hormones that help balance mood and sleep," Dr. Jackson says. So if you don't have enough of it, it's not impossible for sleep disturbances to occur.
"[It's also] a hormone that will often decline with stress due to the interaction with cortisol," she says. As mentioned above, stress-reducing habits can be a big help, as can improving your sleep quality, to help improve symptoms of low testosterone.
If you can't fall asleep at all, it could be a sign of low thyroid function. As Dr. Jackson says, "Hypothyroidism is a leading cause of insomnia and can also increase sweating at night. Low thyroid will create a feeling of sluggishness and fatigue during the day, often making you feel as if you need more sleep than you do."
Do these symptoms sound familiar? If so, it may be a good idea to see a doctor to help rule out hypothyroidism as a possible cause for what's keeping you up at night.
6. Excess Stress
If your progesterone levels are low, you may notice a few sleep disturbances at night, including an inability to relax. As Dr. Jackson says, "Progesterone aids in sleep by creating a feeling of relaxation and calmness to the body and mind, which is great for anxiety and mood."
And again, this is yet another hormone that can be thrown off by excess stress. What's more, stress can inhibit ovulation, and it is only through ovulation that progesterone is manufactured, Dr. Jackson says. And thus, you can see another vicious cycle starting to develop.
7. Feeling On Edge
If you wake up easily, or feel on edge when trying to fall asleep, consider how adrenaline may be playing a role.
"Adrenaline activates our sympathetic nervous system causing individuals to be awake and alert," Dr. Luk says. "High adrenaline levels may cause difficulty in falling sleep. Therefore, ensuring that your body is relaxed is imperative to keep adrenaline levels low and to make it easier to sleep."
Should you suspect your hormones are imbalanced, let a doctor know so they can get to the bottom of the issue. You can also make a few changes to your bedtime routine, including limiting how much artificial light you take in, finding ways to reduce stress, and going to bed at the same time each night, as way to keep your hormones balanced.
While these small changes may not fix an underlying health issue that's disrupting your hormones, they're a great place to start when you want to get better sleep.