LIKE MOST PEOPLE, you probably don’t get enough sleep. You might constantly wake up groggy or struggle to get through the day without a nap. This constant lack of rest could cause a number of health consequences, including lowering your testosterone levels.
Testosterone is the male sex hormone needed to help regulate many different processes in the body, including libido, bone and muscle mass, erectile functioning, and red blood cell production, says John Lynam, D.O., an American Osteopathic Association board-certified urologist.
Many factors can affect your testosterone levels, especially age and weight, Dr. Lynam says. When your testosterone is too low, you can experience a range of symptoms, including fatigue, depressed mood, erectile dysfunction, and reduced muscle mass.
Sleep affects testosterone, too. Not getting enough might decrease testosterone levels, but it’s likely not the only cause of that drop in T. A lack of sleep can also worsen other health conditions that might affect testosterone.
“Sleep disorders including a decrease in sleep quality, inadequate sleep duration, disruption of circadian rhythm, and sleep breathing disorders such as sleep apnea can all negatively affect the testosterone production cycle and result in decreased testosterone production, and consequently decreased blood testosterone levels,” Dr. Lynam says.
It’s recommended that adults get at least seven hours of sleep a night. Along with lowering testosterone levels, a lack of sleep can increase your risk for obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and mental health conditions.
Here’s a look at the relationship between a lack of sleep and testosterone levels, and how to get a better night’s rest to improve your health.
What’s the Link Between Testosterone and Sleep?
Testosterone levels increase while you sleep and are closely linked to your circadian rhythm, which is the natural process that regulates your sleep-wake cycle.
“Research suggests that, in healthy men, testosterone levels rise with the onset of sleep and reach a peak at the first REM sleep episode,” explains Darshan Patel, M.D., assistant professor of urology at the University of California San Diego’s Men’s Health Center.
REM, or rapid eye movement, is the sleep stage associated with dreaming and the consolidation of memories, according to the Sleep Foundation.
For people with traditional sleep patterns, peak testosterone levels occur between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m., Dr. Patel says.
“Your testosterone levels are highest in the morning,” says Justin Dubin, M.D., a urologist and men’s health specialist at Memorial Healthcare System. “When we tell people to get their testosterone levels drawn, we want to get the highest levels—usually before 10 a.m.”
When you don’t get enough sleep, it can affect your circadian rhythm and potentially lower your testosterone levels, he explains.
How Lack of Sleep Affects Testosterone
Maintaining normal testosterone levels requires at least three hours of good sleep each night, Dr. Lynam says.
But you need at least seven hours a night to get the rest your body needs to stay healthy. A small study of 10 healthy young men found that getting just five hours of sleep a night for a week lowered their testosterone levels by 10 to 15 percent.
Another study showed that non-standard shift workers, who work outside the 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. timeframe, were more likely to have lower testosterone levels and worsened symptoms of testosterone deficiency, or hypogonadism.
Sleep and testosterone have a cyclical relationship. While lack of sleep affects testosterone production, research shows that low testosterone can affect sleep quality. Testosterone replacement therapy can help, but if your levels get too high, your sleep duration will suffer.
That’s why it’s always important to work with your doctor on treatment for testosterone deficiency.
The Age, Obesity, and Sleep Cycle
Age and obesity are two main factors that lower your testosterone. And, they also affect your sleep, which can impact testosterone levels.
Your total testosterone naturally drops between 1 percent and 2 percent a year as you age. Sleep patterns also shift with age. Older people report finding it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, as well as waking up during the night and sleeping less.
Obesity is linked to insomnia and sleep apnea, which are also associated with lower testosterone. Chronic sleep loss can create a hormonal imbalance in the body that can lead to weight gain.
How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep
Getting a good night’s sleep can help keep your testosterone levels in balance, lower your risk for several chronic conditions, and just make you feel better throughout the day. Here are some ways to improve your sleep, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Stick to a schedule: Going to bed and waking up at the same times every day helps you maintain a healthy sleep cycle.
- Avoid eating too much right before bed: When you eat a big, heavy meal right before bed, you might struggle to get comfortable, and it could disrupt your sleep.
- Stay away from caffeine or alcohol: They have stimulating effects, which can keep you up and disrupt your sleep.
- Create a calming space: Limit screen time, set your ideal bedroom temperature, wear earplugs, or use room-darkening curtains to ensure your sleep space is tranquil.
- Skip naps: Taking long naps during the day might interfere with your regular sleep schedule and make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
- Exercise regularly: This is crucial for a healthy lifestyle, which will help your sleep habits. Just avoid being too active too late, which might keep you up.
- Reduce stress: Find stress-relieving activities, such as meditation, that can help you relax before bedtime.
Erica Sweeney is a writer who mostly covers health, wellness and careers. She has written for The New York Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Parade, Money, Business Insider and many more.