The average person needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep. But in the world of Emergency Medicine, that number is a dream.
Emergency Medical workers typically have a 24-hour on-call shift, a time period in which they may sleep but need to be prepared to wake at any time and make life-altering decisions for patients in critical need.
That type of sleep deprivation leads to a myriad of problems. Men, in particular, have fallen prone to low testosterone. Low testosterone, ironically, can cause insomnia, but new studies are showing the lack of sleep reduces testosterone as well.
What are the Symptoms of Reduced Testosterone?
Reduced testosterone manifests itself in several different ways. Many people think that if they’re just not interested in sex anymore and want to sleep all the time, they may have low testosterone levels. However, low testosterone means more than just a lower sex drive.
Irritability or Moodiness
People with low testosterone levels experience sudden mood swings not normal to their average mood pattern. We all experience regular highs and lows. But reduced testosterone results in extreme lows and extreme highs not experienced before.
Many men with low testosterone report symptoms similar to women experiencing menopause. Testosterone helps to regulate your mood, so the dip in levels coinciding with the dip in mood makes sense.
Testosterone helps build muscles. This is why weight lifters will take extra doses of it. If you have weaker, smaller muscles with no explanation, then you may have a dip in your testosterone levels.
Usually, men who attempt to build their muscles through regular exercise notice this symptom first. They’re working so hard to build muscle that their body just won’t allow them to build.
Increased fat tissue accompanies smaller muscles. Men who are experiencing low testosterone levels will notice smaller increases in fat. We’re not just talking about a spare tire here but rather saggy arms and legs.
When you don’t have the same pep in your step, you may be experiencing low testosterone levels. When suddenly lethargic every day and can’t keep up with your normal activities, take note.
What Causes Low Testosterone?
Low testosterone results from a handful of issues as serious as a tumor on your pituitary gland to overexposure to household chemicals. Chemicals like BPA found in epoxy resins, parabens found in personal care products (think body wash, shampoo, toothpaste, shaving gel), and even certain types of beer can cause testosterone levels to dip.
Even stress can cause low testosterone, which may explain the dip in testosterone levels among emergency medical workers and other individuals with stressful jobs.
Sometimes the low testosterone levels are the result of a domino effect. When you experience stress at work, you often end up with other effects such as insomnia.
The Cortisol-Testosterone Effect
When you don’t sleep, your body responds to the lack of sleep by producing more cortisol, an anti-stress hormone. The cortisol has been proven to fight against testosterone, so your body cannot produce it as effectively.
The excess of cortisol causes all kinds of other problems like weight gain, and thus excess fat that you may see when you do not produce testosterone.
Don’t think cortisol is a bad thing. We need it. Cortisol can help control blood sugar levels, regulate metabolism, help reduce inflammation and assist with memory formulation.
Cortisol also helps control the salt and water balance in our bodies, which regulates blood pressure.
An excess of cortisol will cause problems but not the existence of cortisol itself.
How Lack of Sleep Reduces Testosterone
Scientists have had theories for some time now about sleep and testosterone production. A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) sought to investigate this relationship further.
The subjects of the study were ten healthy young men. The sleep study had the men sleep for one week at home, maintaining eight-hour bedtimes at home.
The subjects then spent eleven days in the laboratory with three nights of ten-hour bedtimes and then eight nights of five-hour bedtimes.
Scientists recorded the levels of sleep and then had blood sampling every fifteen to thirty minutes for twenty-four hours after the ten-hour night and after the seventh five-hour night.
In the ten healthy young men, testosterone levels were lower after sleep restriction than in the rested condition. Additionally, the daytime testosterone levels were decreased by ten to fifteen percent.
Approximately fifteen percent of the United States’ working population experience the same sleep deprivation nightly that these ten subjects experienced during the experiment.
Scientists and statisticians alike recognize that this particular experiment involved a small sample of men. Additionally, the men were healthy, which isn’t necessarily the norm among the American population. Still, the evidence is compelling.
Less sleep ultimately means more cortisol. More cortisol then fights testosterone production.
How Much Sleep Should a Person Get?
The average American typically sleeps 6.8 hours. Many think six hours is sufficient. Yet sleep experts are saying thirty-five percent of Americans don’t get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night.
Sleep experts are now saying that you must not just lie dow for seven to nine hours. You need quality sleep.
Quality over Quantity
Certainly the amount of sleep you get matters. But the type of sleep you snag matters even more.
Scientists divide sleep into two cycles: quiet sleep or non-REM sleep, and dreaming sleep or REM sleep. REM stands for Rapid Eye Movement or the way your eyes move as you sleep.
Quiet Sleep or Non-REM Sleep
Quiet sleep or non-REM sleep happens first. Scientists describe this as an idling brain in a movable body.
During this type of sleep, your thinking and body function slow down. Movement occurs as you shift and fall into deeper stages of sleep.
You move through three basic states of quiet sleep. N1 occurs int he first five minutes. Your body temp begins to drop, your muscles relax, your eyes move slowly from side to slide, and you’re easily jarred awake.
N2 occurs for the next ten to twenty-five ten to twenty-five minutes. In this state your eyes still, your heart rate and breathing slower, and you have irregular brain electrical activity. You typically spend half your night in N2.
N3 is the deep sleep of the non-REM cycle or the slow-wave sleep. Your breathing is regular, blood pressure falls, and pulse slows to 20 to 30 percent below your waking rate. In N3 your brain responds less to external stimuli, and you’re difficult to wake.
Dreaming Sleep or REM Sleep
The second stage of sleep is dreaming sleep or REM sleep. In this stage, you have an active brain in a paralyzed body. Your brain races, thinking and dreaming, your body temperature rises, your blood pressure increases, and your heart rate and breathing speed up.
You need both REM and non-REM sleep. The REM cycle restores your mind like the non-REM cycle restores your body.
REM sleep helps facilitate learning and memory. This explains why students who cram all night retain less information than those who go to bed and experience their REM cycles.
Your body tends to have its highest testosterone production and levels during your REM cycle, which would indicate that if you have interrupted REM cycles, your testosterone levels will be lower.
When you sleep, you go from a non-REM cycle to a REM cycle, but you do not just wake up then. Your body actually goes through four to five non-REM and REM cycles a night if you acquire a full night’s sleep.
So if you’re a person with a 24-hour shift, where you snag an hour or two here or there, your sleep schedule does not allow your body to get to the REM cycle, which would explain low testosterone levels.
How to Fall Asleep and Stay Asleep?
If you have the luxury of having a seven to nine-hour uninterrupted window to sleep, you can maximize your sleep possibility by practicing good sleep hygiene.
Start by setting a routine. Be mindful and focused. Think about the things that will help you wind down and relax.
Perhaps a nightly hot shower or bath can help you relax. Stay away from all screens an hour before bedtime, but rather pick up a book or just sit outside and listen to whatever quiet sounds you may have in your neighborhood.
Stay disciplined with your routine. Discipline yourself to wake up at the same time and go to bed at the same time every day, regardless of the day, even on the weekends.
Make your bedroom comfortable. Reserve your bed for just sleeping and having sex. Don’t read in bed or watch television.
You’re training your body to think of your bed as a place to sleep.
Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and cool. Experts say the perfect temperature for sleeping varies between 60 and 67 degrees.
Avoid eating a big meal before bedtime. If you’re overweight, you may have a hard time sleeping because of sleep apnea or indigestion. So not eating near bedtime is critical to catching more sleep.
Melatonin and Other Supplements
You can also assist your sleep by taking supplements. Melatonin is by far the most common supplement. Most commonly used for jet lag, this particular pill is mild with no proven long-lasting negative side effects.
Melatonin doesn’t help you fall asleep immediately, but its qualities help you stay asleep. So if you tend to fall asleep quickly but then wake up for hours in the night, melatonin may help.
Valerian root is another popular supplement that has proven to improve sleep quality for some people. No studies have conclusive evidence on the effects of its long-term use, though.
Some smells may help you relax and fall asleep more quickly. In particular, lavender has proven to relax individuals. Even just the smell of this soothing fragrance diffused in your bedroom for thirty minutes before bedtime can improve the quality of sleep.
If you’re serious about your sleep, focus on purposefully winding down and relaxing. Weighted blankets are a fairly new method that seem to work well to calm anxious children, and adults have now adopted them to help them fall asleep. The weight tends to comfort people as they doze off.
Consider guided meditation as well. A myriad of apps with meditative audio or video playing by your bedside can help you forget your day’s worries and doze off as well. Even Alexa can read you a bedtime story now.
As you go to bed, practice step-by-step muscle relaxation, where you mentally move through your whole body, focusing on one muscle at a time. You can contract and then release the muscles from your neck down to your toes one at a time.
Deep breathing exercises practiced in yoga have also proven to help people relax and fall asleep more quickly. These exercises tend to relax muscles, slow down heart rates, and take individuals’ attention away from their worries.
All of these exercises, be they relaxation methods, supplements, or just good sleep hygiene can help you sleep better and avoid low testosterone levels that can, in turn, cause other problems.
The “What If” Factor
What if you have a job that does not allow the seven-to-nine-hour window for uninterrupted sleep? What if you’re too busy saving other people’s lives to protect your own?
Remember, you need to take care of the factory, that’s you, to take care of other people. If lack of sleep reduces testosterone, and if low testosterone levels cause so many problems, you need to figure out a solution in addition to catching more sleep.
For information on solutions to combat low testosterone levels, contact us.