Inadequate Sleep Affects Hormone Levels

The changes in sleep quality that often come with age seem to trigger shifts in the endocrine system, altering hormone levels and metabolism. Researchers say that this study shows that a good night's sleep may be a natural form of hormone therapy, particularly for older adults.

  • Researchers studied 149 men, aged 16 to 83, and found that age-related changes in sleep quality were linked to specific changes in several hormones.

  • As sleep quality and quantity declined levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol increased, while levels of Growth Hormone (GH) declined.

  • After the age of 25, men experience a decline in deep sleep that accompanied by a drop in GH production. GH deficiency is related to reduced muscle mass and strength, increased fat tissue, weakened immunity to infection, and other health declines.

  • In later years, a new sleep pattern emerges, in which men get less sleep overall and levels of cortisol go up. Elevated cortisol may underlie a host of mental and metabolic problems, including memory loss and insulin resistance -- a precursor to diabetes.

The lower quality of sleep that the aging men experienced was evident though the measurement of several parameters.

  • The average percentage of time spent in deep slow wave sleep decreased from 18.9% during early adulthood (age 16-25 years) to 3.4% during mid-life (age 36-50 years).

  • This lost deep sleep was replaced by lighter sleep (stages 1 and 2) without other significant changes.

  • The transition from mid-life to late life (age 71-83 years) involved no further significant decrease in deep slow wave sleep but an increase in time awake of 28 minutes per decade at the expense of decreases in both light non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and REM sleep.

These sleep pattern changes accompanied some changes in hormonal activity.

  • The decline in slow wave sleep from early adulthood to mid-life was paralleled by a major decline in GH secretion (-372 µg per decade).

  • From mid-life to late life, GH secretion further declined at a slower rate (-43 µg per decade).

  • Independently of age, the amount of GH secretion was significantly associated with slow wave sleep.

  • Increasing age was associated with an elevation of evening cortisol levels (+19.3 nmol/L per decade) that became significant only after age 50 years, when sleep became more fragmented and REM sleep declined.

These connections between hormones and shifting sleep patterns suggest that maintaining sleep quality throughout life may have important health benefits, according to Dr. Eve Van Cauter of the University of Chicago, Illinois, and colleagues.

Currently, studies are looking at whether GH replacement therapy might combat some of the effects of aging. Researchers note that their findings of a GH dip after age 25 suggest that such therapies "should target a younger age range than currently envisioned."

The Journal of the American Medical Association August 16, 2000;284:861-868, 880-881.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:


The more I study natural medicine the more clear it is to me that balancing the adrenal glands are an essential ingredient of a wellness program. They are responsible for controlling pregnenolone, growth hormone, DHEA and the sex hormones, all of which are important for slowing down the aging process.

Sleep is also a critical component of optimal health. If one's sleeping patterns are disturbed it is very difficult to achieve a high level of wellness. There seems to be a vicious cycle with impaired adrenals as if they are impaired they will worsen the sleep, and worsened sleep seems to further impair the adrenals. The likely mediating influence is probably through melatonin levels.

If you are truly interested in slowing down the aging process, then I highly recommend you get the "Secrets of Anti-Aging" telephone clinic. Co-hosted by me, and primarily led by Ron Rosedale, M.D., who is widely considered to be the leading anti-aging doctor in the country, the "Secrets of Anti-Aging" tele clinic will teach you ALL of the following:

  • Five practical ways to improve your skin

  • How to increase your energy as you age gracefully

  • How to improve your aches and pains & overcome your loss of flexibility

  • The role supplements play in preventing aging

  • How to improve your memory and reverse your mental decline

  • How you can reverse the factors causing you to age rapidly and MORE!

Dr. Rosedale is extremely gifted in interpreting the complex basic science research into practical steps you can take to increase your longevity, and improve the way you feel - even if you suffer from a degenerative disease!

Related Articles:

Optimal Wellness Guide to a Good Night's Sleep

The Kalish Method—An Effective Way to Address and Heal Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenals Affect Survival of Breast Cancer Patients

Cuddled as a Baby Means a Less-Stressed Adult Life

Nighttime Magnetic Field Exposure Linked to Reduction in Melatonin

Increased Breast Cancer Risk with Sleep Pattern Disruptions

Post your comment