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Hypothyroidism and Sleep Deprivation: How Are They Related?

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In today’s generation, sleep deprivation is increasingly becoming a relevant health problem. Do you feel tired and seemingly cannot get adequate nighttime sleep? If yes, then you might be experiencing sleep deprivation.

Many people are sleep deprived because of lifestyle habits, sleeping disorders (like obstructive sleep apnea and insomnia), and neurological disorders. One of the most common elements of sleep disorders is chronic sleep deprivation. This condition has complex biological consequences, and one of these is its impact on the normal functioning of the thyroid.

What Is Sleep Deprivation and Its Effects on the Body

Sleep deprivation refers to a stressful condition wherein in a person experiences feelings of inadequate sleep, fatigue, and manifests impairments in general well-being and functioning.

However, did you know that sleep deprivation can be crucial for human survival? In some instances, sleep deprivation can actually lead to alertness, enhanced mood, and increased energy. These are beneficial for the body’s “fight or flight response against increased stress or emergency situations.

What Are the Symptoms of Sleep Deprivation

A person who is suffering from sleep deprivation may experience fatigue. This can further disrupt work and routine activities. It may also cause excessive daytime sleepiness, which can result in reduced productivity.

Sleep deprivation may cause clumsiness, thus disrupting the body’s motor skills. There is also a significant effect on the weight; it can either cause weight loss or weight gain.

What Are the Biological Effects of Sleep Deprivation

Sleep deprivation is capable of inducing complex biological effects like changes in the neural autonomic control, heightened oxidative stress, accelerated atherosclerosis and altered inflammatory, and altered coagulation responses.

There is a link between sleep deprivation, metabolic disorders, and cardiovascular disorders. That is why early assessment and diagnosis of sleep deprivation and treatment are clinically relevant for preventing common health conditions among the adult population.

What Happens During Sleep Deprivation

Most likely, the involved hormones and neural circuits play an essential role in the occurrence of sleep deprivation. For example, the thyroid hormone activity increases whenever a person is in a state of sleep deprivation. It is believed that this increase is a major part of the physiology of sleep deprivation.

The hypothalamic–pituitary–thyroid axis during sleep deprivation initially increases because of the consequence of increased production and release of thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH from the pituitary gland. While TSH levels can significantly increase during sleep deprivation, the increase is just secondary to sleep deprivation. Thyroid hormone inhibits sleep and not the other way around.

Link Between Sleep Deprivation and Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism refers to a thyroid hormone deficiency causing metabolism and other bodily functions to slow down. When thyroid hormones are low, a person may experience daytime and nighttime symptoms. These symptoms may include heightened fatigue at daytime and poor sleep at nighttime.

Hypothyroidism can increase the risk of sleep disorders. Thus, it can prevent a person from completing a full cycle of sleep. As a result, it also becomes a major contributor to daytime fatigue among patients with hypothyroidism.

What is the Connection Between Sleep Deprivation and Thyroid Functions

According to a study conducted by the Department of Psychiatry in the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, total sleep deprivation may cause changes in the thyroid axis, involving sleep and waking activity.

The study is composed of 12 healthy subjects during a baseline period of 2 days, total sleep deprivation of 3 days, and 2 nights of no-medication recovery sleep. The blood samples were obtained at 2300 hours and 0130 hours and tested for TSH, T3, T4, and glucocorticoids.

As expected, the elevated TSH levels were obtained and linked due to sleep deprivation. However, the results also showed that sleep deprivation significantly increased the circulating levels of T3 in the blood at 2300 hours. Aside from that, T4 serum concentration level also changed scores. Glucocorticoid levels remained intact despite thyroid hormone changes. The physical activities of the subjects remained constant. Performing cognitive tasks were increased during sleep deprivation.

This study only shows that sleep deprivation causes the thyroid hormones to increase. This is contrary to hypothyroidism. However, there is also another study showing the alteration of thyroid economy following sleep deprivation.

In another study conducted by the Institute of Biology of the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, high T3 and T4 activation and central hypothyroidism were observed following sleep restriction or sleep deprivation in rats. This study aimed to assess the thyroid hormone metabolism and hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis following sleep restriction in rats.

Sleep-restricted rats used in the study displayed normal TSH and T4 levels despite increased T3 levels. Sleep recovery didn’t normalize the high concentrations of T3. This suggests that high T3 is indeed a powerful counterregulatory mechanism that is activated after sleep deprivation. The lifestyle most people in this generation subscribe have today has significantly shortened people’s sleeping time.

Sleep deprivation is associated with thyroid function. While there is an increase in TSH, T3 and T4 levels among subjects of the above-mentioned studies, hypothyroidism can also cause sleep deprivation. This is because low thyroid hormones may disrupt sleep cycle, thus leading to reduced nighttime sleep and increased daytime sleep. To sum up, Hypothyroidism slows metabolism and may increase the risk of certain sleep disorders.

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