Article: Exploring the subtle links between stress, hormones, and our restless nights

Publié le 19/03/2024

By Marc Dellière

Chronic insomnia manifests as a sleep disorder characterized by difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep, and waking up too early in the morning, persisting for at least three months. This condition can lead to fatigue, concentration problems, and mood swings during the day.

Studies have revealed a genetic link to insomnia, suggesting it may be inherited, while imbalances in the brain's sleep-wake regulation also contribute.

Corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) is a hormone produced in the brain, specifically in the hypothalamus, a region pivotal in regulating numerous bodily functions, including stress response and sleep regulation. CRH plays a crucial role in stress response by triggering the release of other hormones, such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which in turn stimulate cortisol production by the adrenal glands. Its activation, particularly in acute or chronic stress situations, is closely linked to insomnia. CRH acts on different brain sites involved in wakefulness, thereby disrupting sleep.

To regulate normal sleep-wake cycles, it is widely assumed that a crucial interaction between growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), which promotes sleep, and CRH is at play. GHRH is primarily released during the first half of the night, promoting deep and restorative sleep. In contrast, CRH dominates during the second half of the night, where we experience less deep sleep and more REM sleep (the stage where dreams often occur). An imbalance in this balance, with elevated CRH levels, could disrupt our sleep-wake cycle.

It would be interesting to further research this complex interaction between CRH, GHRH, stress, and sleep. Understanding how these hormones interact and how they are influenced by stress could open new perspectives for the treatment of insomnia and other sleep disorders.

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Sources:

HPA axis activity in patients with chronic insomnia: A systematic review and meta-analysis of case-control studies.

Dressle RJ, Feige B, Spiegelhalder K, Schmucker C, Benz F, Mey NC, Riemann D.

Sleep Med Rev. 2022 Apr;62:101588. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2022.101588.

The impact of stress on sleep: Pathogenic sleep reactivity as a vulnerability to insomnia and circadian disorders.

Kalmbach DA, Anderson JR, Drake CL.

J Sleep Res. 2018 Dec;27(6):e12710. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12710. 

Stress and Insomnia: A Bidirectional Relationship

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