Trouble Sleeping? It May be Due to this Hidden Culprit
Trouble falling asleep. Waking in the middle of the night multiple times. Not being able to fall back asleep easily. Do any of these sound familiar? While there are many explanations for slumber troubles, one researcher thinks he has found an unexpected culprit: dwindling testosterone.
A recent study by psychology doctoral student Zoran Sekerovic at the University of Montreal, demonstrates that the natural decline in testosterone as men age plays a role in sleep quality. As men enter middle age, testosterone levels begin to decline. These levels drop up to 2% annually after the age of 30, and previous research has suggested that sleep quality drops substantially after the age of 40. Sekerovic’s study indicates that this decline in testosterone plays a role in the sleep cycle of middle-aged men.
After the age of 50, men spend less and less time in phase three and four of the sleep cycle—in other words, they do not enter the deep sleep cycles as often as younger men do. This can wreck havoc on the daily quality of life that men experience—lack of deep sleep has been shown to increase stress hormones and affect the health and wellbeing of the brain. It may even lead to neurocognitive disorders in late life.
Sekerovic found a link between this sleep decline and testosterone levels in the blood, especially in men age 50 and older. After the age of 60, some men stop going into deep sleep patterns entirely. This sets men up for a host of physical and mental health problems. Sekerovic accounts for this correlation by speculating that testosterone helps to keep the brain young. As men age, the brain loses neurons, which leads to a difficulty with entraining the two hemispheres of the brain—a key aspect of deep sleep. When the two hemispheres are not in sync with one another, sleep pattern disturbances result. Sekerovic suspects that low testosterone levels are having a direct impact on the brain’s functional ability to synchronize the two hemispheres, which is explains how testosterone levels can directly affect sleep patterns.
Previous research has suggested that lack of sleep negatively impacts the levels of testosterone in the bloodstream, but Sekerovic’s study found the opposite: the lower the testosterone, the less a man can sleep. What can account for this difference in findings is that the previous studies measured cyclical daily changes in testosterone levels instead of looking at overall testosterone quantity. Sekerovic’s study did just that—he measured the overall quantity of testosterone in the blood and compared that to the EEGs of men with sleep disturbances. The results indicated that the lower the testosterone, the less the men were able to enter the third and fourth sleep cycles.
Sekerovic’s study sheds new light on the causes and mechanisms involved in sleep disturbances in older men. If future researchers are able to replicate his results, hormone therapy may be one way to treat these sleep disturbances, which would significantly increase the quality of life for men who have trouble sleeping. Hormone therapy carries its own risks and side-effects, so future research is needed in order to ensure that the testosterone link is the cause of the sleep disturbances.