Tired all day long? Not interested in sex? Your ability to concentrate isn’t what it used to be? Could be that you’re not getting enough sleep. Or, it could be that you have low testosterone, or low T. But is it possible that you have low T because of sleep deprivation? According to some research, the answer is yes.
“The link actually goes both ways,” said Rowena A. DeSouza, MD, assistant professor of urology at University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “Low testosterone can cause sleep disturbance, and sleep disturbance can cause low testosterone. It can become a vicious cycle.”
Sleep Deprivation and Low T: What the Research Shows
A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported the effect of one week of sleep restriction in healthy, young men. Previous studies have shown that gradual decrease in sleep time is partially responsible for low T in older men. Studies also have shown that sleep disturbance caused by sleep apnea— a chronic breathing disturbance that occurs during sleep — is linked to low T.
In the JAMA study, 10 men volunteered to have their testosterone levels checked during eight nights of sleep restriction. They were only allowed five hours of sleep per night. The study found that their daytime testosterone levels decreased by 10 to 15 percent. The lowest testosterone levels were in the afternoon and evening. The study also found a progressive loss of energy over the week of sleep deprivation.
Obstructive sleep apnea is a common condition in which breathing becomes obstructed during sleep. Symptoms are daytime sleepiness, loud snoring at night, and short periods of absent breathing (apnea). Sleep apnea causes an abnormal sleep cycle and can result in low testosterone. Treating sleep apnea has been shown to return testosterone to normal levels.
A study presented at the American Urological meeting in 2012 evaluated 2,121 male law-enforcement officers to see if there was an association between sleep apnea and low testosterone. About 38 percent of the men had low testosterone, and 43 percent were considered to have sleep apnea. The men with sleep apnea were almost 50 percent more likely to have low T than men without sleep apnea.
Why the Link Between Sleep and Low T?
“It seems that normal testosterone production requires restful, undisturbed sleep called REM sleep. Over time, sleep disturbance also can cause an increase in the stress hormone cortisone. High cortisone levels also can cause low testosterone,” explained Dr. DeSouza.
The majority of the testosterone used every day is replenished at night. In older men, gradual reduction in hours of sleep has been closely correlated with gradual lowering of testosterone. Studies have shown that men with low testosterone, especially older men, tend to have more trouble sleeping. But how low T actually affects sleep is still unclear.
Tips for Better Sleep
Good sleep habits are called sleep hygiene. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an adult should get seven to nine hours of sleep every night. Here are the basics for maintaining good sleep hygiene:
- strong>Set a routine. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, including weekends.
- strong>Get comfortable. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature for sleeping.
- strong>Stay focused. Make sure your bed is comfortable and use it only for sex or sleeping. Avoid bedroom distractions like TV, books, and computers.
- strong>Don’t chow-down. Avoid eating a big meal before bedtime.
You and the Low T-Sleep Deprivation Connection
The level of sleep restriction imposed on the young men in the JAMA study, five hours per night, is actually about the average amount of sleep that 15 percent of working Americans get.
“What these studies tell me is that doctors need to consider low testosterone as a diagnosis in men who complain of fatigue and sleep problems,” said DeSouza. “We also need to look for causes of sleep disturbance, like sleep apnea, in our patients with low testosterone.”
If you have symptoms like low energy, low libido, daytime sleepiness, or poor concentration, talk to your doctor about the possibility of low testosterone. If your partner tells you that you have loud snoring at night with periods in which your breathing is interrupted, talk to your doctor about sleep apnea.