a man sleeping in a darkened room

Not Getting Enough Sleep Could Have This Terrible Side Effect

A lack of quality z's is linked to low testosterone levels.
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Fast Facts

  • Testosterone levels peak during REM sleep. If you don’t get enough quality sleep, your body may not produce enough of the hormone.
  • Research has shown that men who slept less than 5 hours a night for one week had significantly lower levels of testosterone than when they had a full night’s rest.
  • Getting enough sleep can help keep your T levels within the normal range.

Doomscroll Twitter well past midnight and you’ll be grumpy and unfocused the next day (no surprises there). But if you regularly skimp on sleep you could have a bigger problem. Turns out sleep and testosterone are intricately linked, and if you sacrifice shut-eye too often, your T levels could decline.

Testosterone is the main male reproductive hormone, but ensuring a healthy sex drive isn’t its only function. It also plays a key role in maintaining bone and muscle strength, regulating your fertility, your body’s ability to store and burn fat, red blood cell production, emotion and mood, and more. That’s why it’s critical you have enough for your age.

Stress, genetics, and environmental factors can all throw your testosterone levels out of whack. But so can not get enough quality sleep. Here’s how—and how to make sure you’re getting enough sleep to keep your testosterone levels high.

What is the Link Between Sleep and Testosterone?

During the night, your body cycles through different stages of sleep, including deep REM sleep. Testosterone levels begin to rise when you fall asleep, peak at about the time you enter the first REM stage and remain high until you wake. (1)

If you don’t spend enough time in REM sleep, your body can’t replenish your hormones. “Sleep deprivation can cause testosterone levels to drop,” says Jenna Gress Smith, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and sleep medicine specialist.

It doesn’t take long for sleep deprivation to affect your testosterone levels. One study (2) published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that men who slept less than 5 hours a night for one week had significantly lower levels of testosterone than when they had a full night’s rest— a 10-15% decrease in testosterone production on average. The JAMA research found that skipping sleep reduced young men’s testosterone levels by the same amount as aging 10 to 15 years.

Sleep and Testosterone

  • It doesn’t take long for sleep deprivation to affect your testosterone levels.
  • If you don’t spend enough time in REM sleep, your body can’t replenish your hormones.
  • During the night, your body cycles through different stages of sleep,

Low Testosterone and Sleep

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults should get 7 to 9 hours of undisturbed sleep per night. “If you’re falling below this range, it can lead to an imbalance of hormone production, including low testosterone,” says Gress Smith.

One fairly common sleep disorder that can cause poor sleep is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which affects about 4% of men over age 50. OSA has been linked to lower testosterone levels, and issues of sexual dysfunction, including low libido (3), erectile dysfunction (4), and impotence (5).

It works both ways: Sleep deprivation can affect hormone levels and cause low T, but low testosterone can also impact healthy sleep patterns.

As men age, they begin to experience a decrease in testosterone levels. Beginning around age 30, testosterone levels begin to drop by about 1 percent a year. But a prominent 2007 study (6) found that men are experiencing a sharper decline than they would have in the past: the researchers found that a 65-year-old man in 1987 had about 17 percent more testosterone than a 65- year-old man in 2004.

More recent research from the American Urological Association found that between 1996 and 2016 (7), testosterone levels declined in adolescents and young men. The study authors noted that between 10-40 percent of adult males and 20 percent of young adult men were testosterone deficient.

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Symptoms of low T can include insomnia, as well as a host of physical and mental signs:

  • Irritability
  • Having trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Losing muscle mass
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss on the face and body
  • Low libido
  • Weight gain
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Loss of strength
 

The good news is that testosterone levels increase soon after you start to get more sleep, according to a study of the effects of ‘catch-up’ sleep on the body (8).

Sleep Matters

  • Adults should get 7 to 9 hours of undisturbed sleep per night
  • One fairly common sleep disorder that can cause poor sleep is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA)
  • Beginning around age 30, testosterone levels begin to drop by about 1 percent a year

FAQs About Sleep and Testosterone

What is considered a low level of testosterone?

For men, under 300 ng/dL is considered to be clinically low.

What are some of the signs and symptoms of low T?

Symptoms of low testosterone may include low sex drive, fatigue, loss of muscle mass, irritability, depression, or erectile dysfunction.

Is 6 hours of sleep enough to maintain a healthy level of testosterone?

Although sleep requirements can vary among people, experts recommend 7 to 9 hours of restful sleep to maintain all aspects of health, including healthy levels of testosterone.

The Bottom Line

Chronic sleep deprivation can impact testosterone levels since testosterone production is at its peak during REM sleep. Getting more sleep may boost your testosterone, along with making healthy food choices and maintaining a healthy weight. However, hormone therapy such as testosterone replacement therapy may be needed to elevate your T levels to within a normal range.
References:
1. Wittert G (2014). The relationship between sleep disorders and testosterone in men, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3955336/
2. R. Leproult, E. Van Cauter (2011). Effect of 1 Week of Sleep Restriction on Testosterone Levels in Young Healthy Men. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1029127
3. Kim SD, Cho KS (2019). Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Testosterone Deficiency. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6305865/
4. Pascual M, de Batlle J, Barbé F, et al (2018). Erectile dysfunction in obstructive sleep apnea patients: A randomized trial on the effects of Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6082539/
5. Kim SD, Cho KS. Obstructive Sleep Apnea and Testosterone Deficiency (2019). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6305865/
6. Thomas G. Travison, et al (2007), A Population-Level Decline in Serum Testosterone Levels in American Men
https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/92/1/196/2598434
7. Patel P, Fantus R, Lokeshwar S, et al. Trends in Serum Testosterone Levels Among Adolescent and Young Adults Men in the United States. https://www.urologytimes.com/view/testosterone-levels-show-steady-decrease-among-young-us-men
8. Killick R, et al (2015). Metabolic and hormonal effects of ‘catch-up’ sleep in men with chronic, repetitive, lifestyle-driven sleep restriction.
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25683266/

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