This Habit Is Disrupting Your Hormones. Here's What To Do
So many women are suffering from irregular menstrual cycles, painful cramps, or conditions like PCOS (one of the most common hormonal imbalances out there, affecting between 8 and 20 percent of women). We're constantly talking about these issues on mindbodygreen and reminding women that there's a lot they can do to restore their hormone balance naturally—like change their diets, heal their gut, and reduce stress.
But there's one thing that continues to disrupt our hormones on a daily—or should I say nightly?—basis that we don't give nearly enough attention. It's the mistake of not making sleep a top priority.
Sleep is the last big obstacle keeping so many people from optimal health. For some reason, even the most wellness-obsessed have a hard time prioritizing sleep. The consequences of this are vast and affect so many aspects of our health. In fact, there's a strong argument that sleep is more important than nutrition, exercise, and mindfulness.
So how does sleep connect to your hormones as a woman? According to top functional medicine experts, they're connected in more ways than you could ever imagine. For starters, it's thought that women need more sleep than men. "Sleep is critical for hormone balance in women. Most hormones are controlled by the hypothalamus and pituitary—two organs that sit in our brains and rely on normal circadian rhythms. I experienced this firsthand as a medical student, when my shifting sleep schedule in the emergency room severely threw off my hormones." explained Taz Bhatia, M.D., integrative medicine physician and author of the book Super Woman RX.
And it's not just female sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone; it's all of our hormones—from cortisol to insulin to melatonin. According to Amy Shah, M.D., integrative medicine physician and mindbodygreen Collective member, "Sleep has SO MANY effects on the hormones—from lowered cortisol to better insulin sensitivity to lowered leptin and HGH."
According to a study published earlier this year, just one sleepless night can disrupt your hormones, leading to impaired blood glucose sensitivity the next morning. This will affect your mood and energy levels and can lead to poor dietary choices, which spells even more trouble for your weight and other hormones.
And this relationship also goes both ways. According to research published in 2018 in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep, "Clinic-based studies indicate that sleep disturbances and disorders including obstructive sleep apnea and excessive daytime sleepiness occur more frequently among women with PCOS compared to comparison groups without the syndrome." This means that lack of sleep can lead to hormone imbalances, and hormones imbalances can contribute to poor sleep. The classic snowball effect." According to Jolene Brighten, N.D., a naturopathic doctor and women's health expert, "Our sex hormones are intimately tied to our circadian rhythms. When we skimp on sleep, we can activate an increase in cortisol and decrease in melatonin, which in term can affect progesterone production. As a result, women can experience more anxiety, PMS symptoms, and insomnia, which only makes the issues of hormone imbalance worse."
So how much sleep should you be getting to be as kind as possible to your hormones? According to Dr. Shah, "To ease hormonal imbalance, I often ask women to prioritize sleep. Eight to nine hours can really help keep hunger hormones, sex hormones balanced. When you sleep your body can make more hormones, repair itself, and clean out old or access hormones." What else can you do? According to Alissa Vitti, women's hormone and functional nutrition expert and author of WomanCode, cutting caffeine, increasing your magnesium intake, and experimenting with stress-busting adaptogens like ashwagandha are great places to start improving your sleep for better hormone balance.