6 Ways Sleep Deprivation Affects Your Hormones

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When you don't get enough sleep, feeling tired isn't the only consequence. Lack of sleep can affect the way your whole body functions, and there are even a number of ways sleep deprivation can impact your hormones. You might not realize it, but not getting enough sleep can affect everything from your stress hormones, to how hungry you feel, and even your insulin levels. This means sleep is extra important for more than just your energy levels, and it can make a difference in balancing out your hormones.

"Sleep deprivation causes imbalances in many hormones, and in turn, the imbalance of these hormones causes more sleep deprivation," functional medicine practitioner Veronica Anderson, MD, IFMCP, tells Bustle. "The result is a vicious cycle. Sleep deprivation in and of itself has an effect on the master hormone system, termed the hypothalamic-pituitary axis, as well as the nervous system."

Everyone has their own individualized circadian rhythm or natural sleep/wake cycles, which help to regulate numerous important biological activities such as waking up, sleeping, the release of certain hormones (including melatonin and cortisol), blood pressure, body temperature, blood sugar levels, digestive secretions, and so on, according to family physician and hormone health expert Don Colbert, M.D. Getting proper sleep can help ensure that everything functions properly, especially your hormones.

Here are six ways sleep deprivation can affect your hormones, according to experts.

1. It Affects Insulin

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Lack of sleep increases adrenal stress and cellular resistance to insulin. Studies have shown that people with sleep deprivation show abnormalities in insulin, which leads to abnormal processing of glucose. "This process, when sustained, can lead to an increased risk of contracting type 2 diabetes," Dr. Anderson says.

2. It Increases Your Thyroid Hormone

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How much sleep you get can also impact your thyroid functioning. "Acute sleep deprivation also increases the TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone)," Dr. Anderson says. "High levels of TSH translates to a slower body metabolism and an under-active thyroid." This can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, feeling cold, and hair loss.

3. It Can Affect Leptin, Related To Hunger

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Sleep deprivation lowers leptin levels, which can affect your appetite. "The role of leptin is suppressing the appetite and signaling to the body when it's time to stop eating," Dr. Anderson says. "Sleep deprivation will decrease the satiety hormone leptin, making sleep deprived individuals feel more hungry."

4. It Alters Ghrelin, Also Related To Hunger

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Another appetite hormone affected by sleep deprivation is ghrelin. "Ghrelin stimulates the appetite and tells us when it's time to eat," Dr. Anderson says. While leptin levels are lowered from lack of sleep, ghrelin levels increase, making you feel even hungrier.

5. It Raises Cortisol

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When you are sleep deprived, your body is in a state of stress, and the adrenal glands produce increased cortisol levels. But melatonin, commonly known as the sleep hormone, has to be in sync with cortisol for a good night’s sleep. "If the cortisol levels in the body are very high and don’t go down, it can start off a vicious cycle where you have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep at night," Dr. Anderson says. "This is also the reason for that 'wired and tired' feeling — when you feel tired getting into bed but cannot fall asleep."

6. It Lowers Your Sex Hormones

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Your sex hormones can also be affected by sleep deprivation. When the body is stressed and cortisol goes up, there are less sex hormones made, including testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone. "Sleep deprivation lowers testosterone levels which is linked to low libido, low energy, and poor concentration," Dr. Colbert says.

Getting enough sleep each night is important, not just for how well-rested you feel, but so your body's hormones remain in balance for everything to function properly. If you have difficulties sleeping at night, it may be time to talk to your doctor.