This article is shared with permission from our friends at Paleohacks.
The Thyroid-Sleep Connection
When you’re battling thyroid problems, sleep can become elusive and frustrating. Fatigue can feel debilitating, and sleep becomes more critical than ever. But when hormones are unbalanced, insomnia and other sleep issues can surface.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped organ that sits at the base of the neck. When it’s working properly, most people will be completely unaware of what the thyroid does. But when hormone production crosses out of the normal range on either end, the reaction can have a significant, full body impact.
The thyroid produces two hormones: T3 and T4. T3 is the active form of the hormone, and T4 is the inactive form that is held in reserve for conversion to active form when the cells need more. Thyroid hormone dysfunction can happen in a number of ways, but the most common form is hypothyroidism or underproduction of either or both thyroid hormones. In many cases, hypothyroidism is rooted in an autoimmune cause, where one or more triggers activate the immune system to believe that the thyroid is a problem.
Hormonal imbalances in the thyroid can lead to weakness, depression and disrupted sleep.
When the immune system targets the thyroid, antibodies against the thyroid can be produced, causing an inflammatory reaction that suppresses hormone production (hypothyroidism) or that overproduces them (hyperthyroidism).
Symptoms of Thyroid Hormone Imbalance
- Sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Weight gain and inability to lose weight
- Muscle weakness and aches/pains
- Elevated LDL cholesterol
- Stiff joints
- Menstrual irregularities
- Thinning hair on the head or eyebrows
- Slowed pulse
- Low heart rate
- Memory problems
- Sleep issues and insomnia
Bottom line: The thyroid, while small, has a significant impact on the entire body. It can impact weight, energy levels, sleep quality, and physical pain levels.
How Your Thyroid Hormones Impact Sleep
Sleep is important—we all know that. It never feels more essential, however, than when it becomes a rarity. Whether you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep (or both), the thyroid can have such a strong impact on sleep that it’s essential to address the root cause of thyroid problems and not only the symptom of sleep disturbance.
Taking sleeping pills or other sleep aids on their own may provide relief, but unless the thyroid is rebalanced, sleep problems will persist and may become chronic. As a result of sleep deprivation, other health issues may pop up and increase difficulty in balancing the thyroid.
While the thyroid is known for regulating metabolism, T3 and T4 regulate many more things, including body temperature and heart rate. Additionally, when the thyroid becomes off balanced, it can drag the adrenal glands with it, which have a strong influence on circadian rhythms, ability to handle stress, and reproductive hormone production.
Sleep deprivation can even lead to an increased production of thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH. This can result in trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, regardless of how tired you may feel during the day. (2)
Sleep deprivation can lead to creation of a thyroid stimulating hormone, which makes it even harder to fall asleep.
Thyroid hormone medication can also contribute to sleep disturbances if it’s not precisely dosed. Thyroid patients who have been on medication for years can sometimes sense a need to alter dosage if their sleep patterns begin to change.
Beyond the actual hormone impacts, thyroid side effects can also cause sleep disturbances. These can include uncomfortable symptoms like night sweats (which are more common in premenopausal or postmenopausal women who have thyroid disease), as well as more serious conditions like sleep apnea.
One of the common conditions associated with thyroid dysfunction is anxiety, which can lead to insomnia or sleep disturbances. (3) While it can be tempting to only address anxiety on its own, along with remedies to fix sleep issues, again, only treating symptoms will never fully address the underlying problem of thyroid and sleep dysfunction.
Bottom line: The thyroid controls way more than just metabolism, and without regulated thyroid hormones, the adrenal glands and other hormone-producing organs will suffer from hormonal imbalances. Balancing the thyroid and addressing the root cause is the best way to fix sleep problems.
3 Ways Sleep Affects Your Thyroid
Addressing thyroid health at the root cause includes many angles, not the least of which should be establishing good sleep habits. Even if the thyroid is causing sleep troubles, there is no reason not to establish healthy sleep routines as part of a healing protocol. Whether the thyroid leads to sleep problems, or whether the sleep issues lead to thyroid problems, isn’t always clear, but in many cases, it’s actually some of both.
Thyroid issues make it difficult to lose weight when hypothyroidism or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is present. When you add in sleep disturbances that can result from that, along with poor sleep habits, it can be nearly impossible to lose weight since lack of sleep can reduce the ability to lose fat. (4) Since low thyroid patients often struggle to lose pounds, ensuring as much sleep as possible will foster an environment that is ripe for potential weight loss.
In many cases, the body responds to the routine habits that we create. Oftentimes, when we battle insomnia, we give into the lack of tiredness and stay up later and later, watching TV or surfing on smartphones. The longer we are exposed to blue light, the more shifted the circadian rhythm will become, and eventually, insomnia will become a self-sustaining pattern. In order to break this part of the sleep disturbance cycle, it’s important to establish a regular bedtime and to discontinue use of technology at least 30 minutes before (but ideally at least an hour). Read a book, drink herbal tea, meditate, or prepare for the next day.
Thyroid imbalances can be associated with blood sugar problems, leading to insulin resistance or hypoglycemia. (5) When sleep decreases, the body loses its ability to heal and reset.
Bottom line: The thyroid is extremely sensitive, and establishing a healthy sleep routine is crucial for the body’s ability to heal as well as to reduce inflammation and balance hormones.
3 Sleep Hacks for Thyroid Problems
Yoga is therapeutic for many different conditions, but research shows it is extremely effective for insomnia and sleep disturbances. (6) We recommend trying this soothing 10-minute yoga routine for restful sleep.
Lavender essential oil can have a beneficial relaxing effect that can help successfully address insomnia in some people. (8) Try adding a few drop of lavender essential oil to your pillow or to a warm bath before bedtime.
In summary, the thyroid is closely tied to the ability to have healthy sleep, but unhealthy sleep habits themselves can also strongly impact the thyroid’s ability to produce hormones. While it’s essential to address thyroid conditions from the root cause, it is also beneficial to implement a healthy sleep routine, utilizing complementary and alternative therapies as needed.
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