Sleep apnea and hormones are more closely connected than you may realize.
Hormones are a vital part of healthy sleep, and a good night’s sleep is vital to healthy hormone production. However, even with proper sleep hygiene (meaning you have a great sleep routine and habits), you may still suffer from poor sleep and hormonal imbalances without understanding why.
Your poor sleep or hormonal imbalances can be because of the underlying sleep disorder obstructive sleep apnea.
You may not realize you have a sleep breathing disorder. Millions of people (especially women) go undiagnosed every year, but getting a sleep test can help you uncover whether this common sleep disorder is distrupting your health, including your hormonal health.
If you’ve not been diagnosed with sleep apnea, we’re sharing a brief introduction to this common sleep disorder. If you’ve been diagnosed, but haven’t sought treatment or are inconsistent with your treatment, discover how treatment can help bring you better hormone balance.
What is Sleep Apnea?
Obstructive Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder characterized by reduced airflow or multiple pauses in breath during the night.
Signs of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Gasping, snorting, or choking during sleep
- Daytime sleepiness, even after what feels like a full night’s sleep
Sleep apnea is a severely underdiagnosed condition, mainly because people with sleep apnea may not even realize why they’re not getting the healthy sleep they need.
Sleep apnea can create or worsen numerous health problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. Long-term problems caused by untreated sleep apnea can include impaired cognitive function, heart disease, and insulin resistance. Many of these issues can be caused by sleep apnea’s effect on your body’s hormones.
How Sleep-Disordered Breathing Affects Your Hormones
A study published by the European Respiratory Journal found that sleep-disordered breathing alters the serum levels or secretory patterns of many of your body’s hormones, including testosterone, growth hormone, aldosterone, and vasopressin.
The study also found that hormones can affect sleep-disordered breathing as well. Endocrine disorders can contribute to or worsen symptoms of sleep apnea, while treatment can help relieve them.
The interactions between sleep-disordered breathing and your hormones are complex, and the two can have a cyclical effect on each other.
This cyclical effect can make getting proper treatment tricky if you don’t address both issues. Meaning, hormone therapy may not be sufficient for treating those imbalances if you don’t also address potential sleep disorders, and untreated sleep apnea may not improve unless you address your hormone imbalance.
This can be especially problematic for obese patients, older patients, or women experiencing menopause, because all three are at greater risk for obstructive sleep apnea, as well as, additional hormonal disorders.
Sleep Apnea and Endocrine Disorders
According to a study published by the Archives of Medical Science, people with obstructive sleep apnea are at higher risk of developing metabolic and endocrine disorders like hypogonadism, hypercortisolism, and osteoporosis. These disorders can lead to additional health problems, including premature death.
The study found that disturbed sleep caused by sleep apnea can disrupt processes involved in bone formation. This is because changes in your circadian rhythm impact your body’s nightly process of repairing itself while you sleep, which in turn can make your bones weaker and more likely to fracture, especially in older adults.
Sleep apnea can also impact hormonal homeostasis in both genders. Your body’s sex hormones, such as progesterone, androgens, and estrogen affect your breathing, but it’s not clear which hormone is most closely linked to breathing.
Sleep deprivation can impact these hormone levels as well as your sexual function.
We’ve already talked about how sleep apnea and sleep deprivation can cause sexual dysfunction in a previous article— sleep apnea creates cardiovascular issues that are linked to the same factors that cause erectile dysfunction. In fact, nearly half of men with sleep apnea have low testosterone levels at night.
Obstructive sleep apnea is also related to resistant hypertension, which may be a result of excess levels of the hormone aldosterone, which directly correlates to severe sleep apnea, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. However, blocking this hormone can reduce OSA symptoms.
More research is needed to understand the full connection between sleep apnea and endocrine disorders. However, timely and proper treatment for sleep apnea can help reverse or even prevent further issues with insulin resistance, hypertension, and weight gain.
CPAP Treatment and Hormone Levels
If you have sleep apnea, treating that condition can also go a long way in treating any other conditions you’re experiencing at the same time. The best way to do this is with CPAP therapy.
CPAP— or continuous positive airway pressure— gently opens your upper airway with a continuous stream of air, removing any obstructions and allowing you to breathe freely and sleep well.
Getting a good night’s sleep with CPAP is not only good for helping you feel rested each morning, but CPAP can also reverse or prevent further health problems from any concurrent conditions you may be experiencing.
For example, a proper night’s sleep with CPAP can help your body’s hormone production return to normal.
By returning to a healthy night’s sleep each night, your body can produce appropriate amounts of its vital hormones, such as ghrelin, leptin, and insulin. CPAP can help improve your body’s insulin resistance and how it processes glucose, which is vital in reducing the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.
When to Seek Treatment
If you’re experiencing problems with hormone imbalance and you’re not sure why, an underlying sleep disorder like obstructive sleep apnea or insomnia may be to blame.
If you or a loved one are experiencing hormone imbalance, endocrine disorders, or metabolic disorders, keep an eye out for the following symptoms as well. These may indicate an undiagnosed sleep disorder:
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
- Loud snoring
- Gasping, choking, or snorting during sleep
- Taking more than 30 minutes to fall asleep
- Waking up earlier than you intend each morning
- Waking up during the night
If you’re experiencing the above symptoms, or believe you’re at risk of sleep apnea or sleep-disordered breathing, take our sleep apnea quiz. This quiz won’t provide you with a diagnosis, but it will help you make sense of your symptoms so you can discuss them with your doctor or a sleep specialist.
Hormonal imbalance should never be ignored, especially if you’re also showing symptoms of a sleep disorder. Contact us at the Sleep Centers of Middle Tennessee today to start getting back to better sleep and better health.
Saaresranta, T., and O. Polo. “Sleep-Disordered Breathing and Hormones.” European Respiratory Society, European Respiratory Society, 1 July 2003, erj.ersjournals.com/content/22/1/161.Ruchała, Marek, et al. “Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Hormones – a Novel Insight.” Archives of Medical Science : AMS, Termedia Publishing House, June 2017, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5507108/.