Sleep plays a critical part in keeping the body healthy. Unfortunately, many suffer from insomnia, which keeps them from getting sleep. Insomnia can be broadly described as a condition that causes one to have difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and/or reducing the total quality of one’s sleep. If insomnia is ignored and left untreated, it can quickly cause damage and imbalances throughout the body. According to Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, whose focus is on chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and the thyroid, regular loss of sleep causes one’s entire system to be suppressed, which inhibits bodily restoration and hypothalamic function. Because insomnia is so impactful to the body it is important to efficiently treat the cause rather than the symptoms.
There are many reasons why one may suffer from insomnia such as nutritional imbalances, environmental toxins, stress, hormonal imbalances and thyroid issues. These can all inhibit sleep and possibly develop into chronic insomnia. Those with thyroid issues, particularly hypothyroidism, often find themselves suffering from insomnia. By understanding the influence that the thyroid has on one’s sleep and learning ways to treat it one may be able to reclaim a healthy sleep cycle.
The thyroid is pivotal in controlling metabolic function in nearly all the cells of the body. When one’s thyroid is malfunctioning, hormone levels can swing erratically or may consistently rest outside healthy ranges. Thyroidal imbalances directly impact various systems that can cause insomnia and other health problems. Even though the thyroid can cause a great variety of issues it is often overlooked for long periods. If a thyroid condition goes untreated, one can be left to suffer with insomnia without hope of long term resolution. There are three significant elements connected to the thyroid that are important for getting good quality sleep: sex hormones, cortisol, and melatonin.
The Sex Hormones
Some of the many hormones influenced by thyroid health are the sex hormones of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Those with hypothyroidism often experience reduced levels of these hormones. This can make sleep difficult and inconsistent. The risk of insomnia is further increased in women because menopause can further reduce important female sex hormone levels.
Both estrogen and progesterone play a role in sleep quality. Low levels of estrogen can cause hot flashes, which can cause one to wake during the night or keep one from falling asleep. With low progesterone levels there is greater risk of experiencing anxiety and sleep apnea which further inhibits sleep. Those going through menopause while also having an untreated thyroid condition are likely to have sleep difficulties.
Reduced testosterone levels can be caused by poor thyroid function. For men, this can reduce sleep quality and consistency. A reduction in the sleep cycle due to testosterone deficiency makes it difficult for the body to recuperate and regenerate. Lacking this restorative period causes one to wake up feeling sluggish and tired.
Cortisol, “The Stress Hormone”
It is common for those with hypothyroidism to experience insomnia due to improper cortisol balance. Because the thyroid is closely tied to the adrenals, when one system is impacted the other can experience malfunction. When the body feels stress, regardless if it is fabricated or there is real danger, the adrenals release cortisol. This hormone is beneficial when it is in proper balance. For example, waking up in the morning triggers a cortisol release that engages the whole body to help get it moving. As cortisol level decreases throughout the day, we feel more tired and fall asleep when levels are at their lowest. If thyroid hormones are not working as intended, the adrenals can excessively produce cortisol. This makes it difficult to achieve sleep because the body is maintaining a heightened mental state.
If one is excessively stressed or continuously anxious, the body may feel the need to constantly release cortisol which can inhibit sleep. Those who have high cortisol often have difficulty falling asleep as well as staying asleep. It is not uncommon for those with elevated levels to wake up every couple of hours unable to regain sleep. Conversely, when the adrenals are continuously engaged they will eventually become exhausted. After an extended period of inadequate cortisol release the body experiences cortisol deficit. This can also negatively impact one’s sleep cycle. Reduced cortisol can cause the body to release adrenaline, which can lead to fitful non-restorative sleep. Maintaining proper cortisol function is nearly impossible if one’s thyroid is not working as intended.
This hormone is produced in the pituitary gland and is recognized as a critical element in maintaining the body’s clock, including the day-night cycle. Melatonin synthesis and release is triggered by lack of light and helps the body go to sleep. Dr. Walter Pierpaoli, MD, author of The Melatonin Miracle: Nature’s Age-Reversing, Disease-Fighting, Sex-Enhancing Hormone, is a strong promoter of melatonin’s ability as an adaptogen that aids adrenal, thyroid, and sex hormone regulation. Imbalances in these regions can be significant insomnia contributors. By maintaining proper melatonin levels, one can not only improve their sleep quality but also keep various systems of the body in line.
Melatonin has a significant effect on thyroid hormones. In a study conducted by Dr. Pierpaoli, it was found that a daily dosage of melatonin increased estrogen levels and improved thyroid function in the test group composed of perimenopausal and menopausal women age 42 to 62. It appeared that TSH levels were not altered, but melatonin did aid in the conversion of T4 into T3, which can help resolve some thyroid conditions. As noted above, improved function can lead to better hormonal regulation.
Treating insomnia, much like a thyroid condition, requires identification of the problem rather than treating just the symptoms. To do this properly, one must analyze their environmental factors, dietary habits, and medical history. The best way to resolve one’s nighttime difficulties is to treat any existing conditions and properly balance important hormones such as thyroid, sex hormones, cortisol, and melatonin. In addition to proper treatment there are a variety of practices and habits that can improve sleep quality.
Augmenting one’s diet with sleep superfoods can be highly beneficial to resolving insomnia troubles. Eating a high-protein snack a few hours before going to bed can aid in the production of melatonin and serotonin. Both of which aid in sleep quality. Cherries are also a great source of melatonin and are a worthwhile addition to one’s diet.
When the body and mind are more relaxed there is less risk of undue anxiety and stress. Chamomile tea is widely utilized as a natural sleep aid and relaxant. Drinking a cup of tea after dinner or before bed can help the body enter a relaxed state. Another relaxing activity to pursue is regular exercise. Being active in the morning and relaxing in the evening through stretching, yoga, or meditation can improve sleep quality.
Greater understanding of the conditions and causal factors of insomnia better equips you to recognize problem areas. By focusing on treating the core issues rather than the symptoms they cause, better sleep can be achieved. Insomnia can seem like a nightmare but by pursuing proper treatment of hormonal imbalances, or other sleep-stealing conditions, one can return to sleeping soundly.