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Sleep, Hormones, and Health: Why Sleep Feels So Good and Is So Good for You

Natalie
Stein
February 1, 2024
Sleep, Hormones, and Health: Why Sleep Feels So Good and Is So Good for You
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Sleep is one of those great things in life that feels good and is good for you. A good night of sleep can have immediate benefits, both that you can feel and that you cannot detect, but are there. It’s a win-win! 

Sleeping enough can make you feel better as energy improves, mood gets better, ability to focus increases, and proneness to accidents decreases. Health benefits of getting adequate shut-eye include lowering blood sugar, improving energy and mood, and increasing productivity.

Many of the benefits of sleep are the result of sleep’s effects on hormone levels. Sleep impacts levels of a range of hormones related to stress, appetite, and glucose metabolism. If you were not already convinced that sleep is good, this information about how sleep affects your hormones might do the trick.

Stress Hormones and Sleep

Stress hormones drive the stress response, which can include increased heart rate, higher blood sugar, tensed muscles, and sweating. The stress response has some positive roles for certain events, such as letting you do your best in a high-pressure situation such as a job interview or a competition. However, a prolonged stress response, such as over weeks or months due to poor health, financial worries, family concerns, or job pressures, can be unhealthy.

Cortisol is one stress hormone. Another is adrenaline, or epinephrine. Sleep deprivation raises levels of cortisol and adrenaline, and can do so for as long as you are short on sleep. Over time, having too much cortisol and adrenaline in the body has effects besides increasing anxiety or feelings of stress. These hormones raise risk for hypertension, heart attack, and stroke. 

Stress hormones also:

  • Raise blood sugar levels, which prepares your body to react in a one-time situation, but which raises diabetes risk over time.
  • Increase hunger, which triggers excessive eating and can lead to weight gain.
  • Increase fat storage, which is the opposite of what you may be looking for when losing weight!

Managing stress through relaxation and other techniques can help reduce levels of chronic stress, but sleep is a powerful tool, as well. Getting adequate sleep can help your body keep stress hormones down to healthier levels.

Hunger Hormones and Sleep

Lack of adequate quality sleep makes weight loss much more difficult. This is partly because you may be too tired to make good choices (it may be easier to convince yourself that you are hungry for a chocolate cupcake than for a handful of celery sticks), and largely because hormones related to hunger and appetite are out of balance. Along with the stress hormone cortisol, which also has the effect of increasing appetite, ghrelin and leptin play a role.

Ghrelin is a hormone that increases hunger. It increases before meals to signal to your body that it is time to eat. Sleep deprivation, even after one night, increases ghrelin levels. That means you can feel extra hungry when you are tired.

Leptin is a hormone that makes you feel satisfied. It usually increases after a meal and lets you know that it is time to stop eating. Being sleep deprived leads to lower leptin levels, so it takes more food to feel satisfied.

The result of being extra hungry, from more ghrelin, and being less satisfied, due to less leptin, can be eating a lot. Furthermore, the foods often eaten when fatigued tend to be higher-starch, higher-sugar, and higher-calorie than the foods chosen when fully rested. The result? Weight gain.

Chronic Health Conditions and Sleep

Guess what - getting more sleep can help you lower blood sugar and blood pressure, not to mention improve heart health. Sleep lowers cortisol to lower blood sugar levels and also affects insulin sensitivity. Sleep deprivation increases insulin resistance, leading to higher blood sugar levels. 

Getting more sleep is one of the quickest ways to feel good and it is not just in your mind. Sleep improves hormone balance and can result in easier weight control, less stress, and better glucose control - all great ways to lower diabetes risk.

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