It turns out that feeling sleepy may be the least of the problems caused by chronic sleep deprivation. Experts are now beginning to understand the dramatic impact that not getting enough sleep can have on our hormones.

According to the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 50 to 70 million Americans are affected by chronic sleep disorders as well as periodic sleep problems — issues that can significantly impact health, alertness, and safety. The NSF also says that studies show that healthy adults have a “basal sleep need of seven to eight hours every night.” But this does not account for the added fatigue of chronic illnesses (such as hypothyroidism) or “sleep debt” — the additional hours needed to catch up on lost sleep.

Despite the need for at least seven hours of sleep per night, according to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Sleep Disorders Questionnaire, more than one in three adults surveyed report getting less than seven hours of sleep during a typical 24-hour period.

When we skimp on sleep once in a while, some of us try to catch up on our sleep debt as soon as possible. But some people run a chronic sleep debt, and end up depending on a woefully insufficient level of sleep on a daily basis.

In addition to making you more tired, less clear-headed, sleep deprivation puts you at an even greater risk of accidents. In the NHANES survey, almost 5% of those surveyed reported nodding off or falling asleep while driving at least once in the preceding month!

But many of us do not realize that sleep deprivation wreaks havoc on our hormones, and can also affect the immune system, lower our resistance to infection, impair our thyroid function, negatively affect the ability to lose weight, and make us more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.


The Effects of a Chronic Sleep Deficit on Your Hormones

Here are some of the effects that a chronic sleep deficit can have on your hormones:

  • Affects your ability to manufacture thyroid hormone properly, is associated with an elevated Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) level — which is associated with hypothyroidism — and may impair T4 to T3 conversion, a crucial process for thyroid function.
  • Lowers your production of growth hormone, which can help with weight loss and metabolism.
  • Interferes with the production and cycle of adrenal hormones, which can lead to worsening adrenal fatigue, lowered immunity, increased belly fat, and worsening sleep patterns.
  • Affects hormones that control appetite, increasing your overall appetite, and in particular, cravings for simple carbohydrates and junk food, making it more likely that you will consume more calories.
  • Lowers your insulin sensitivity and may be a risk factor for insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes reduces levels of the hormone glucagon, which helps release fat from your cells. Less sleep means less fat is released.

More Information

Hormone health gives us another important reason to ensure that we get enough sleep. For some tips in how to get more and better quality sleep, see our article, The Importance of Quality Sleep.

For more information on sleep and sleep issues, see:

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