When you think of hormones, you probably think of sexual development, relationships, or PMS. Hormones, however, affect many other aspects of your life; hormonal balance in the body is one of its strongest, natural sleep regulators.
The Hormones Affected by Sleep Apnea
Healthy hormone production in the body relies on healthy sleeping patterns. Because Sleep Apnea sufferers are likely to experience irregularities in sleeping quality, they are at a much higher risk for experiencing unhealthy hormone levels.
- Testosterone. the male hormone, is responsible for many important functions. Most of the body’s daily production of the hormone occurs during slumber, and sleeping disorders like Sleep Apnea can seriously stunt the production of testosterone. The hormone is most famous for driving sexual desire and appetite, but it is also a fundamental building block of healthy bone density, bone strength, and muscle mass in young men. Low testosterone levels can have detrimental consequences on the development of young men, and the vigor of adult men. In the August issue of The Journal of American Medical Medicine, the results of a study conducted by Eve Can Cauter at theUniversity ofChicago were publishes. The study showed that patients who suffered from interrupted sleep, poor sleeping habits, and poor sleep quality experienced lowered testosterone levels; the hormone had dropped ten to fifteen percent.
- Estrogen. Although men are more likely to develop Sleep Apnea at any age, menopausal and pregnant women have an increased likelihood of developing the dangerous sleeping disorder. Women are more likely to experience Sleep Apnea episodes during menopause because of fluctuating estrogen levels in the body. Hormonal fluctuations are common in menopausal women, and can cause symptoms that contribute to apnea. As estrogen levels decrease during and after menopause, hot flashed and night sweats are more likely to occur and interrupt sleep. Estrogen helps the production of magnesium in the body; magnesium is a mineral that helps relieve muscular tension and promotes muscle release. Decreased estrogen causes the slowing of magnesium production. Menopause is also linked to an increased risk of snoring in estrogen-deficient women.
- Progesterone. Another feminine hormone reduced during menopause, helps women fall asleep at night; women who suffer from Sleep Apnea are at a higher risk for accompanying Insomnia due to low Estrogen and Progesterone Levels.
Sleeping habits are strongly regulated by the natural cycle of day and night; the changing levels of light dictate the production of melatonin in the pineal gland. Inactive during daylight, the pineal gland is located above the center of the brain and naturally begins to produce melatonin as the sun sets. Sleep Apnea patients who experience difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep at night often experience melatonin deficiencies. After the pineal gland begins secreting melatonin when the sun goes down, alertness levels decrease and it becomes easier to fall asleep and stay asleep. Apnea patients who experience frequent arousals at night also experience interruptions in their body’s melatonin production. Third shift workers who get most of their sleep during daylight hours experience more severe melatonin deficiencies. Sleeping during night hours, on a schedule that positively promotes healthy melatonin production, will help ensure falling asleep easier in the future.
The Human Growth Hormone
The Human Growth Hormone promotes cell reproduction, regeneration and growth. The peptide hormone is protein-based, and can be seriously affected by disrupted sleep. The Human Growth Hormone affects the height and weight of children; many children who experience decreased levels of the growth hormone due to Sleep Apnea have problems gaining or maintaining a healthy weight. The hormone is also related to energy homeostasis, muscle mass, calcium retention and bone mineralization, rate of protein synthesis, the increased growth of all organs in the body except the brain, the liver’s retention of glucose, pancreatic islet function and maintenance, and the effectiveness of the immune system. Underproduction of the Human Growth Hormone can also cause the delayed development of sexual maturity in young patients.
Cortisol is extremely closely linked to Sleep Apnea and other sleeping disorders. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is an adrenal hormone secreted when the body responds to stressful or dangerous activities. When breath is interrupted during an Obstructive Sleep Apnea attack, the brain is able to register that the respiratory system is in danger. Cortisol is an excitatory hormone; the brain triggers the release of the hormone in an effort to arouse the body and resume respiratory function. Cortisol levels are shown to spike again about thirty minutes after arousal. Patients who fail to fall back asleep in the thirty minutes following an arousal have an even higher risk of resuming slumber. Although it can be quite difficult, try your best to remain calm during an arousal. Not only does Sleep Apnea cause increased Cortisol production during sleeping hours, increased stress during the day can cause problems falling asleep at night. Patients who experience heightened levels of stress have a tendency to become hyperaroused. Make an effort to de-stress a few times a day. Take a minute to breathe deeply or stretch any stiff muscles that might be bothering you before bed.
Ghrelin and Leptin
Most Sleep Apnea patients have an idea of the serious effect weight can have on sleeping disorders. A large portion of patients, however, do not fully understand the effect of Sleep Apnea on the desire to eat. Leptin and Ghrelin are two hormones affected by Sleep Apnea that help the body regulate appetite and energy homeostasis. Leptin is stored in the body’s fat cells; when the hormone is released due to sleep deprivation, it can prevent a patient from feeling satisfied with their food intake. Ghrelin, produced in the gastrointestinal tract, makes maintaining healthy weight levels more difficult than normal; this hormone promotes appetite. When the body experiences sleep deprivation, both Leptin and Ghrelin levels are increased. The body feels hungrier, and less satisfied with food intake. Imbalanced appetite-regulating hormones are a large contributor to obesity, especially in children.