How hormones affect your sleep and your mood

Woman stretching in white bed after waking up from sleep

Article by Dr Suman Gupta

How does cortisol impact sleep? Can we improve sleep naturally? What other factors are at play? To understand sleep, especially if we want more of it, we have to understand the hidden super-hormones that play an integral role in making it happen.

Dr Suman Gupta, a Functional Medicine Doctor, explains natural ways to boost melatonin levels to achieve better sleep.

Hormones work in symphony with each other to create balance and harmony within the human body. Sleep stems from this perfectly aligned hormonal balance, led by melatonin, our sleep hormone; enabling the mind to switch off and the body to rest. Miraculous processes occur during these seven to nine hours, shaping our mood and energy as we awake.

Why we sleep

Staying awake throughout the day is hard work. The body is running a constant marathon on the inside; each cell processing complex biochemical reactions essential for everyday living. The human body certainly couldn’t sustain this for 24 hours on end. Sleep allows for the cells to repair, toxins to be removed, the brain to reorganise and hormones to regenerate. Thus, enhancing our mood and re-energising us, ready for the new day.

How we sleep

Our body has an inner 24-hour clock, known as the circadian rhythm. The primary hormone in regulating the circadian sleep-cycle is Melatonin. Darkness stimulates melatonin production, which in turn sends a message to the brain signalling us to fall asleep. Melatonin production, within the pineal gland, continues throughout the night, tailing off during the early hours of dawn as light creeps in. The synergistic dance between cortisol (alert hormone) and serotonin (happiness hormone), then takes control to awaken us filled with energy and joy, welcoming us into the new day. As the evening light falls, serotonin conversion into melatonin begins, and the hormonal sleep dance begins again. It is this interplay of hormones that enhances our mood and impacts our overall health and well-being.

What inadequate sleep causes

The link between inadequate sleep and mood has been well researched and documented. Sleep deprivation results in the inability for the human mind and body to fully reset. The brain processes emotions while we sleep. Thus, a lack of sleep can result in heightened emotions, irritability, mood-swings and low resilience. Most of us have experienced those distressing mornings of being woken by the blaring alarm clock, desperate just to creep back under the warm duvet for a few more minutes. This depleted morning energy accompanies the abrupt mood; and overdosing on flat whites seems the only feasible option to momentarily mask the deeper blues in a bid to survive the day.

Studies show that chronic insomnia is associated with mental health issues including depression and anxiety. The exact mechanism is poorly understood, but it is likely that inadequate sleep disrupts melatonin and serotonin production. Low levels of these happiness and calming hormones can cause interference in human behaviour and psychology resulting in mental health issues. Depleted melatonin levels also have a knock-on effect on our sexual hormones which can contribute to menstrual dysregulation and premenstrual syndrome in women, further dampening mood.

What causes inadequate sleep

Chronic stress is the number one cause of sleep deprivation and is regarded a twenty-first century health epidemic. The high cortisol levels released during a prolonged stress state, exert negative effects on the circadian rhythm. Other melatonin blockers include blue light emitted from our mobile devices, environmental toxins and poor nutrition. All these modern-life melatonin disruptors work together to take us onto a new negative sleep-cycle journey.   

How to boost sleep and mood naturally

Hormones are deeply interconnected with sleep, mood, and overall well-being and we can all strive to achieve optimal health and happiness.

Functional medicine understands that melatonin production also occurs within the gut cells. Gut absorption is crucial for providing the body with the essential vitamins and minerals involved in the complex reactions of melatonin synthesis. Stress pathways compete for and exhaust these essential nutrients.  Therefore, optimising gut health and reducing stress is central to obtaining a good night’s sleep. Understanding this human pattern empowers us to make better lifestyle and nutritional choices to improve our mood and overall health and wellbeing.

Melatonin is in fact a super-hormone with multiple benefits outside of the sleep-cycle. There are numerous studies showing the importance of melatonin in anti-ageing, brain cell regeneration, boosting immunity, hormonal balance, optimising gut health, and improving resilience; all of which also affect our mood balance. 

9 natural ways to boost melatonin levels and achieve better sleep

  1. Consume foods rich in tryptophan such as black rice, walnuts, and pistachios:

Tryptophan is an amino acid that helps produce melatonin.

  1. Eat foods high in B-vitamins, especially B6, B12, and folate, such as leafy greens, nuts, and black beans:

B-vitamins facilitate the conversion of melatonin from serotonin.

  1. Supplement with broad-spectrum probiotics to improve gut health:

Melatonin is also produced within the gut.

  1. Dim artificial light and eliminate blue light exposure from devices including mobile phones, tablets and televisions, at least 1 hour before bedtime:

Blue light blocks melatonin production.

  1. Take a warm bath with magnesium salts before bedtime:

Warm baths and magnesium help relax the body and muscles.

  1. Meditate for 2-5 minutes before bed:

Meditation reduces stress hormones, which can block the production of melatonin.

  1. Lie on an acupressure mat before bedtime:

Acupressure stimulates the parasympathetic system triggering deep relaxation.

  1. Sleep before 11pm as these early hours of sleep are worth double:

Melatonin synthesis peaks in the early hours and then begins to slowly decline.

  1. Wake up to natural sunlight:

Sunlight is required to produce serotonin which converts into melatonin.

More tips can be found on Instagram @functionaldoctoruk.

About the author

Dr Suman Gupta is a leading expert in the field of Functional Medicine with over 18 years’ experience as an NHS GP. She has helped thousands of people reverse chronic disease and reach their optimal health by getting to the root cause through ground-breaking comprehensive testing and formulating individualised treatment options.

She is the founder of the London Functional Doctor clinic; which provides lifestyle and nutritional treatment packages to optimise health and well-being. Regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for its management and governance, Functional Doctor is also in the process of launching nationwide online well-being packages as an introduction to Functional Medicine.

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