Health

Not Getting Enough Sleep Could Have This Terrible Side Effect

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

30-Second Takeaway

  • 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.

First, What Are Normal Testosterone Levels?

When it comes to testosterone, there isn’t one specific number you should be looking for in your bloodwork—healthy levels are dependent on your age and activity level. For example, during your teen years (peak testosterone levels), your testosterone should be anywhere between 300 and 1,200 ng/dL. When you’re entering your mid-thirties, you’ll start to see it declining by at least one percent per year. So that means the average male who reaches 70 years old will have testosterone production that’s 30 percent below his peak. However, it’s hard to say where ‘average’ is for your age, since it can depend on so many factors.

Based on all of the above, the following numbers are a good benchmark of below-normal testosterone levels by age.

Testosterone levels of men in their 40s

252–916 ng/dL

Testosterone levels of men in their 50s

215–878 ng/dL

Testosterone levels of men in their 60s

196–859 ng/dL

Testosterone levels of men in their 70s

156–819 ng/dL

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 testosterone. “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 to 15 percent 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.

Testosterone

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.

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 (3) 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 (4), 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.

Are Sleep Apnea and Testosterone Linked?

One fairly common sleep disorder that can cause poor sleep is Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), which affects about 4 percent of men over age 50. OSA has been linked to lower testosterone levels, and issues of sexual dysfunction, including low libido (5), erectile dysfunction (6), and impotence (5).

One theory (5) links low testosterone levels and sleep disorders that are common in people with sleep apnea like:

Most of the above symptoms are caused by sleep apnea, which is a lack of breathing while you sleep. Because interrupted breathing can cause these sleep problems, testosterone production can also suffer.

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

Physical and Mental Signs of Low T

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

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 (7).

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 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