Insomnia Hormones — Is Your Endocrine System Conspiring Against You?

What are insomnia hormones? Well, there are two ways to look at this question.

There are hormones that can cause insomnia…

And then there are hormones that can help insomnia.

This should come as no surprise, because hormones are the regulators of many complex body functions.

insomnia hormones Now keep in mind that there are 39 known hormones circulating around in your body at any given time. To discuss each and every one would turn into something like Anatomy 101, so in order to stay on topic of the insomnia hormone connection, I’ll try to reign in my enthusiasm and gather my focus.

I do think it is useful, however, to bring up the endocrine system, since it is the foundation of all hormonal activity.

Let’s just summarize a few facts: it is a system of eight glands, which secrete a variety of hormones which in turn regulate, stimulate, inhibit, excite, bore, and otherwise affect a multitude of organs, tissue and cells throughout your body.

Their ultimate purpose is homeostasis, which basically means, keeping the body fully functioning as a human is designed to do, in the most stable, healthy, balanced manner possible… no small task considering everything we have to put up with in life.

Your hormones play a role in nearly every meaningful thing your body ends up doing with itself, including digestion, reproduction, growth, metabolism, blood circulation, blood pressure, respiration, sleep, exercise, mood, web surfing and arguing on blog forums.

These endocrine glands include the pineal, hypothalamus and pituitary (these three are located in the brain)… and then moving in a downward direction, the thyroid (neck) thymus (upper chest), adrenal (there is a matching pair of these) and pancreas (midsection), ovary and testis (lower abdomen, again a matched pair of each).

It may also interest you to know that other multi-functional organs are often included in the endocrine system depending on which online graphic you’re looking at (oops, now you know where I’m getting my info) because they too secrete important hormones.

These multi-functional sort-of-endocrine-type-organs include the kidneys, the stomach and intestines, and the skin. (And in case that last one surprised you, wait until you hear this: Vitamin D, which is synthesized in the skin in response to sunlight is, in some neighborhoods, considered a hormone.)

OK, now for the big news: did you know that hormones are classified into two types — steroid and protein (peptide)? Most of the insomnia hormones we’ll be discussing here (if we ever can get around to it) include mostly peptide hormones with a few steroidal ones thrown in. Please don’t ask me what that means, because I just plain don’t know.

(There are a lot of places you can go for endocrine information. I hope, if you are a life sciences student reading this, you will go to those places and completely ignore everything I am saying. Because if you are actually learning anything new here, I fear for your future.)

Let’s get on with the insomnia hormone connection.

Here are some of the most important insomnia hormones… or perhaps it’s better to say hormones that can have an effect, both long term and short term, on your sleeping patterns.

Melatonin

This hormone is produced in the pineal gland, quite nearby the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is part of the hypothalamus.
Coincidence? I think not. The production of melatonin is greatly influenced by the SCN. I discussed the SCN and its role in regulating our circadian rhythms in this article.

melatonin for insomnia?Melatonin may be considered the primary insomnia hormone. That is to say, it plays a definite role in the sleep-wake cycle, otherwise known as the biological clock, which allows us to stay awake and alert during daylight hours and sleep soundly at night.

A deficiency of this hormone may cause insomnia to take hold, especially in cases of jet lag-triggered sleeping problems. Of course, once insomnia begins, many other forces, both physical and psychological, come into play that can cause it to become worse or chronic.

So you would think that, given its important role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, melatonin would be a natural remedy for insomnia, right?

Well, strangely enough, it doesn’t always work that way. When I had my worst insomnia, melatonin did nothing for me. Others have had good effects from it. Personally, I think this simply shows that insomnia is a very complex problem, with many different causes, both known and unknown.

So if you are looking at melatonin as a cure for insomnia, you could be disappointed. It may work as a prevention when used to help ward off jet lag and other circadian rhythm disorders. Also keep in mind that melatonin produced in the body may be a unique formula that is difficult to replicate. The body is, after all, a wondrous marvel of delicate and interconnecting systems.

So far it seems that the best way to increase your own production of melatonin is to establish a strict sleep schedule that closely follows your own circadian rhythms.

For most of us, that means being awake during daylight and sleeping at night. If you can’t follow that, you can then take action that supports whatever schedule you are on. That means keeping your room very dark when you sleep and use bright light therapy while you’re awake.

Remember also to heed the sleep and body temperature fluctations that also promote better sleep, which you can read about in this article.

Read more about the insomnia-hormone connection in Part 2 of this 2-part series…

Again, I suggest the insomnia self-help tutorial even if the insomnia hormones connection is strong in your case. You can’t go wrong with a good sleep hygiene program and cognitive behavioral techniques which are all contained in the program.

Return to the physical causes of insomnia homepage.