Hormones and Sleep: Their Key Role

couple sleeping comfortably in bed

Hormones and Sleep: Their Key Role

The Secrets of Sleep: The Vital Role of Hormones

In each person’s body, many glands and related organs secrete hormones; they make up the body’s endocrine system. Hormone secretions initiate essential physiological processes and regulate critical bodily functions, like sleep.

Your health is highly dependent on the secretion and distribution of hormones in the body while you sleep. As a board-certified practitioner in dental sleep medicine, Dr. Amy Hartsfield treats sleep apnea, which can often lead to hormone imbalances in the body. Through her evidence-based treatment, she can help you treat sleep-depriving sleep apnea and improve your sleep.

The Role of Hormones in Sleep

The glands in your endocrine system listen for cues from your circadian rhythm (internal body clock) each night to know when they can produce and regulate the many hormones essential for overall functioning, healing and recovery, energy replenishment, and more. 

However, if your circadian rhythm is off for any reason—such as switching to the night shift at work, having insomnia, or being awakened repeatedly—endocrine glands get a little confused about when, how often, and how much it should secrete hormones. The longer you go without adequate sleep, the more imbalanced hormones can become.

Key Hormones Affecting Sleep

The relationship between hormones and sleep is interdependent; hormones are not only affected by sleep, but can also significantly affect sleep. Let’s take a closer look at the hormones that influence sleep health.


Melatonin, the hormone produced by your pineal gland, is most commonly associated with sleep because its primary function is regulating your circadian rhythm. If you have experienced sleep issues, you probably have had someone recommend trying melatonin supplements. 

Before taking melatonin supplements, you should ask your general practitioner to test your melatonin levels. Many people attempt to troubleshoot their sleep deprivation by taking over-the-counter melatonin supplements without realizing it won’t be very effective if their sleep issues are A) not caused by melatonin deficiency or B) the deficiency is severe.

Progesterone and Estrogen

Both sexes produce progesterone and estrogen hormones. However, the most specific examples of these hormones in the body apply primarily to women. They are a significant contributor for many women’s increased likelihood to experience insomnia during their lifetime.

Estrone, estradiol, and estriol are the three estrogen hormones the female body produces throughout life as part of the menstrual cycle and in varying amounts throughout puberty, pregnancy, the climacteric phase of ovarian function, and menopause.

Progesterone levels wax and wane during the follicular and luteal phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle and spike to the highest levels during the first and second trimesters of pregnancy.

These phases of a woman’s life, where her levels of estrogen and progesterone hormones rise and fall, can produce uncomfortable—often painful side effects—for women that can easily disturb their ability to sleep, including cramps, restless legs, aches and pains, hot flashes, and nausea.


Testosterone hormones are present in the bodies of both males and females for bone mineral density (strong, healthy bones), different aspects of fertility, and more. Much like how progesterone and estrogen have a more evident, consistent impact on the female body, testosterone levels are more prevalent in males. That’s not to say testosterone does not have a daily impact on sleep health for both sexes—because it does—however, it affects a bit more directly than estrogen or progesterone for men. 

Throughout the day, levels of testosterone oscillate and reach their peak while in REM sleep. When you don’t practice good sleep hygiene, engage in lifestyle activities that hinder it, or experience sleep apnea, you’ll miss out on getting the REM sleep you need and likely deplete your testosterone levels. This can come back to haunt you in the form of insomnia and conditions that lead to snoring.


Restless nights can make anyone feel stressed or anxious for as long as they’re awake the day after, but have you ever wondered why that is? The main reason for sleep-deprived anxiety is that your body’s healthy regulation of cortisolthe “stress hormone” that keeps you alert in response to perceived threats—relies on sleep.

In partnership with melatonin to facilitate the circadian rhythm cycle, cortisol regulates wakefulness patterns. When melatonin levels taper off as you first wake up, the stimulating effect of rising cortisol levels kicks in and keeps your mind alert to jumpstart your day. 

Cortisol is produced in your body when you’re feeling stressed, and too much cortisol production can keep your mind wired and restless at bedtime, even if you’re physically exhausted. In addition to excess cortisol, stress and too much screen time can inhibit the proper production of melatonin.

Hormonal Imbalances and Insomnia

As we convey in the above sections, imbalances in hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone can cause sleep problems that mimic or present as insomnia. When hormones balance back out, the sleep issues they cause will get better. 

The imbalance of melatonin and cortisol caused by poor sleep and other sleep disorders like sleep apnea have a much more substantial, long-term impact on your ability to sleep and overall health than the others, which often resolve themselves over time. 

Managing Hormones for Better Sleep

If you’re looking to keep your hormones in check for better sleep, you will have to commit to some lifestyle changes and develop better sleep habits, such as:

  • Daily physical exercise
  • Turning off electronic devices and TVs at least an hour before bed 
  • Limiting alcohol consumption, especially before bedtime
  • Limiting caffeine consumption to morning time

If you have wonderful sleep habits but still can’t get enough sleep, or you’ve changed your lifestyle without noticeable benefits or improvements, it’s recommended to consult with your general practitioner or a dental sleep medicine practitioner. A dental sleep medicine practitioner can help treat your sleep apnea, which can be a major contributor to hormonal imbalances.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can dietary changes impact hormone levels and sleep patterns?

The foods you eat serve as the fuel your body uses to generate energy and function, so, of course, changes in your diet can impact hormone levels and, as a result, your sleep patterns.

How do seasonal changes influence sleep-related hormones?

When seasons change, so do temperatures and the amount of potential sunlight exposure each day. In the winter, when it’s cold out, and light is minimal, it’s not uncommon to feel sleepy and ready to nap mid-day. Here’s why:

  • When you fall asleep, your body exerts much less energy than while awake and active, so its temperature drops.
  • As this natural drop in body temp occurs, the pineal gland releases more melatonin secretions to keep you sleeping peacefully through the night.
  • When exposed to cold winter temperatures, your body can mimic this phenomenon anytime.

Can exercise routines influence sleep hormones?

Yes, regular exercise encourages the healthy regulation of all bodily functions and, more specifically, helps you fall asleep at night by decreasing cortisol levels.

Does treating sleep apnea help with hormonal imbalances?

Sleep apnea can impact hormonal balances in both women and men. The body’s sex hormones, including progesterone, androgens, and estrogen all affect breathing. Sleep deprivation can influence these hormone levels and sexual function. People who experience obstructive sleep apnea are at a higher risk of other health problems as well, such as osteoporosis, hypogonadism, hypercortisolism, and metabolic and endocrine disorders.


Ultimately, having balanced hormones helps you sleep better, assists with obstructive sleep apnea, and promotes general wellbeing overall. There’s a bit of a cycle here too—sleeping well also helps to balance your hormones. However, if you have a sleep disorder, like sleep apnea, or don’t know what is causing your sleeplessness and snoring, there are solutions available. The next step is connecting with a certified dental sleep medicine specialist who can help address your sleep apnea through oral appliance therapy.

Trust our experts at TMJ & Sleep Solutions of Alabama for guidance on all things related to sleep apnea and sleep. Whatever the cause of your sleep problems and apnea, we are here to help you get the quality sleep you’ve been dreaming of. Contact us today to book an appointment; we’re excited to hear from you!

Learn more about sleep apnea, the restorative power of dental sleep medicine, and oral appliance therapy on our blog.