As discussed in the Insomnia Hormones Part I article, hormones can play a leading role in sleep problems and sleep deprivation.
The connection is still pretty mysterious, though, despite many studies linking insomnia with an imbalance of one hormone or another. And perhaps the biggest mystery of all is the cause-and-effect relationship between sleep and hormones. Why do I say this?
Well, because it’s often difficult to tell the difference between the causes of insomnia and the effects of insomnia. Here’s just one example:
It has been reported that chronic insomnia can cause a rise in the “stress hormone” known as cortisol. But it’s also been reported that elevated levels of cortisol can cause insomnia. Is it cause? Or effect?
It’s easy to see a direct relationship between sleep and stress. When you have stress, you can’t sleep. And when you can’t sleep, you have more stress. For us chronic insomniacs, it’s a no-brainer — it’s called “life in the tired lane.” For all the brilliant research scientists doing the studies, well, apparently it’s something that needs long hours of pondering and lots of grant money.
This isn’t to poke fun at sleep researchers, as they are trying to help chronic insomniacs, no doubt. But doesn’t it make sense that an observed effect of insomnia could just as well be its cause? And that the reverse is also true? And why would this be big news?
It’s the same thing with depression. News Flash #1: insomnia can cause depression. News Flash #2: depression can cause insomnia. All righty then. Thanks for the info.
I will rant more later. For now let’s get back on track of insomnia hormones. Which hormones are most likely to cause insomnia, and which are most likely to help it?
Is your thyroid holding the key to the insomnia hormone connection?
Ample evidence shows thyroid hormones have an effect on sleep. But this is no surprise, because thyroid hormones regulate growth and metabolism and have an effect on every organ system in the body. They determine how, when and at what rate the food you eat is converted into the energy that gives all of your cells the ability to work properly. They also affect heart rate and cardiac function… and the central nervous system. And as we know, the nervous system plays a fundamental role in your sleep.
Hypothyroidism and Insomnia
A deficiency of thyroid hormones can cause insomnia. This is not what most medical books will tell you, as hyperthyroidism (excess of thyroid) is much more strongly associated with insomnia.
But I have found, not only through my own experience but extensive reading, that just about any imbalance in the body can cause insomnia. Our ability to sleep is very closely tied in with our mind-body health.
Hypothyridism can also make you sleep more yet wake up tired. Your sleep fails to refresh you mentally and physically as it should. A common complaint with hypothyroidism is that it produces “brain fog” along with mental and physical sluggishness, weight gain, feeling cold, and the other classic symptoms.
Hyperthyroidism and Insomnia
An excess of thyroid hormones called hyperthyroidism will cause anxiety, a fast pulse, hyperarousal of the nervous system and of course insomnia.
If you have long-term chronic insomnia and have never been tested for thyroid problems, you might want to consider it.
Just some extra info: there are two thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T3) and triiodothyronine (T4). And just in case you’re wondering where your thyroid is located, no it’s NOT behind your left knee — it’s in your neck very close to your trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box), has a butterfly shape, with “wings” called “lateral lobes.”
Parathyroidism and Insomnia
In back of the thyroid are about four little glands called parathyroid glands. These produce a hormone called, logically enough, parathyroid hormone. This hormone regulates calcium in the body. Once in a while, a benign tumor develops in one of the glands and causes an excess of parathyroid to be produced. If you have hyperparathyroidism, you will have elevated blood calcium levels. And yes, this condition can cause insomnia, along with the other symptoms such as loss of energy, brain fog, bone pain, high or fluctuating blood pressure and more. You can learn more at this site.
The Adrenal Glands — Big Trouble for Insomnia Hormones?
Among the most troublesome insomnia hormones are those produced by the adrenal glands.
Adrenal hormones include the “stress hormones” that can have a profound effect on sleep. Your adrenal glands produce a number of hormones, among them:
Epinephrine and Norephinephrine — Insomnia Hormones Extraordinaire
Now ephinephrine is the medical term for adrenaline, which is probably the more familiar term. These are potent substances that have a direct effect on the sympathetic nervous system. They are produced in the “fight or flight” stress response, giving your body the extra energy and power to encounter an emergency situation with the right action. There are so many functions involved in this response: blood sugar, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, pupil dilation, bronchial dilation — everything you would expect in a mechanism so necessary for survival.
But as I’ve discussed in my article on hyperarousal of the nervous system, if you are getting stressed out on a daily basis, these insomnia hormones never have a chance to settle down, and let you get some decent sleep.
Oh, and in case you were wondering, epinephrine and norephinephrine are produced in the adrenal medulla and are not steroidal hormones.
Adrenal Steroid Hormones
The hormones produced in the adrenal cortex are steroidal rather than peptide — and you can rest assured I will not explain the difference, as I haven’t the faintest idea. Aldosterone regulates sodium and potassium in your body, which is, as you can imagine, a seriously important function. And cortisol affects metabolism, the immune system, and inflammation responses.
Deficiencies or excess of any of the adrenal steroidal hormones is cause for serious concern, as there are specific diseases associated with such imbalances that must be treated immediately, including Cushing’s Disease and Addison’s Disease, to name just two.
Now, as I’ve mentioned, this is a site on insomnia, and I’ve got to stay focused. But excess cortisol in amounts too small to cause serious illness have been associated with insomnia. This could be considered another “insomnia hormone” that is elevated during times of stress, which makes it all the more important to develop stress-reducing strategies in your life.
Growth Hormone and Sleep
True growth hormone deficiencies are relatively rare and more common in childhood, when the condition causes very short stature if left untreated. When this condition lingers into adulthood, it can cause insomnia.
But there is also evidence that growth hormone or HGH, produced by the pituitary gland, has an effect on sleep. Sleep studies reveal that growth hormone production increases during deep sleep, or Stage 4 in the sleep cycle. And other studies indicate that a deficiency of growth hormone — which tends to decrease in the body as we age anyway — may cause sleep problems.
So is HGH an insomnia hormone? Well, possibly, but it’s another one of those cause and effect puzzles. Does HGH deficiency cause insomnia or is it an effect of insomnia?
Either way, it seems like optimum levels of HGH for one’s age can only be a good thing. I’m not going to recommend you start getting HGH treatments which are not only tremendously expensive but medically questionable. Instead, I will recommend a few things you can do to raise your own levels of HGH. But I’ll do that in the next article.