In a world where many of us lead busy lives, sacrificing sleep for work is tempting. Ideally, we should all achieve between six and eight hours of sleep per night. However, some people are able to manage with less, while others can’t function without more.
Usually, a poor night’s sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. Then, when we feel sleep deprived, we feel more stressed. As you may have now guessed, more sleep deprivation causes further stress, and so the cycle continues.
A lack of sleep may cause hair loss for a number of reasons. First, it affects the hormones we secrete, which may then lead to conditions such as androgenic hair loss. In addition, sleeping less causes us to feel more stressed, which then causes a condition called ‘telogen effluvium.’ Translated, that means ‘temporary hair loss.’
Finally, when we sleep, we give our bodies the opportunity to enter a period of restoration. The more deep sleep we get; the better. During our sleeping hours, our cells regenerate and our immune systems have a chance to reach their peak performance. That means if you have an underlying health condition that could also cause hair loss and your immune system isn’t supporting it, the problem becomes even worse.
Understanding how a lack of sleep causes hair loss is the first step to tackling the problem. The steps you take next may involve natural therapies to encourage sleep, or engaging in psychological treatments such as sleep hygiene.
Sleep deprivation, hormone secretion, and hair loss
Studies have revealed that sleep deprivation has a significant impact on the hormones we secrete. This includes:
- We produce fewer growth hormones
- Corticotropin-releasing hormones rise
- We produce more ghrelin, which makes us want to eat more
- We reduce our thyroid stimulating hormones
But, what does all of this mean?
Your growth hormones and hair loss
As the name suggests, our growth hormones are responsible for the way we grow. We produce more of them in our earlier years, which is when we need to develop. As time goes on, we naturally produce less. But, by not sleeping enough, the number of growth hormones we circulate drop even further still.
Although there are many ways to create more growth hormones, sleep is the one we’re focusing on here. Getting more sleep allows you to produce more growth hormones, and when you produce more growth hormones you encourage your body to return to the way it was before the hair loss process began. By restoring that balance, there’s a chance you could encourage more hair to grow.
In 2014, one study investigated the possibility that inhibiting corticotropin-releasing hormones could restore hair loss. When you produce too many of these hormones, you’re more likely to feel stressed, which makes your sleep patterns worse. In addition, your body starts to produce more inflammatory markers, which will exacerbate any scalp conditions that cause your hair loss. In fact, there is a direct relationship between corticotropin-releasing hormones and psoriasis.
A good night’s sleep, especially one that sends you into the deep sleep cycle, inhibits these hormones. This makes perfect sense, as sleep is the period where we’re not facing daily stresses, so our bodies don’t have anything to release CRH in response to. If you are sleeping and only achieving a deep sleep through alcohol or medications, you may find that you still don’t achieve the deep sleep phase that allows for CRH inhibition. As such, a natural night’s sleep is the answer to reducing your CRH levels.
Does ghrelin affect hair loss?
In simple terms, ghrelin makes us want to eat more. When we don’t get enough sleep, our ghrelin levels rise, making us feel hungry. The relationship between ghrelin and hair loss isn’t very well researched. Theoretically, though, if you are using your hungry state to eat more junk food and eat fewer of the fruits and vegetables that protect you against pollutants, you could make hair loss worse. We already know that free radicals weaken the scalp’s cells, and if your increase in ghrelin leads to more junk and fewer nutrients, you may not be providing your body with the protection it needs.
How about low TSH?
Both hypo and hyperthyroidism will sometimes present with hair loss as a symptom. However, this will only happen when you have low TSH levels for a long time. Unless you have a clinical diagnosis of a thyroid disorder, it might not be the case that low TSH levels are directly responsible for poor hair growth. However, TSH imbalances can cause poor mood and stress, which then make sleep cycles worse. As such, it has an indirect effect on how your hair grows.
Lack of sleep, stress, and, hair loss
Lack of sleep and stress are a little like the chicken and the egg. It’s hard to tell which one came first, but knowing that doesn’t really matter. Why? Because if you sleep less, you feel more stressed. When you feel more stressed, you get less sleep.
Therefore, we need to focus on why stress leads to hair loss and how to address it. Some of the reasons have already been discussed above. When you’re releasing more CRH, you’re experiencing your body’s natural hormonal response to the stress cycle. As we already know, more CRH means poor hair growth.
If you encounter a lot of stress, you may experience telogen effluvium. As a temporary condition, telogen effluvium encourages some of your scalp’s follicles to go into a form of paralysis. When this happens, patches of your hair begin to fall out.
Another condition is called alopecia areata. Again, this involves an extreme form of stress that encourages your body’s immune system to attack the cells on your scalp. Although experts don’t know why alopecia areata does this, they do know that sleep is a contributing factor.
Finally, if your poor night’s sleep is causing you to form stress-related habits, you might start attacking your hair yourself. Trichotillomania is a condition which involves an urge to pull out hair that you just cannot fight. Although most people attack their eyebrows or eyelashes, some will reach for their hair too.
Reducing stress so that you encounter less hair loss
We’ll move onto improving your sleep patterns in a short while. For the time being, you may want to try the following measures to reduce stress:
- Remove yourself from the stressful situation, if possible
- Attend counselling or group therapy sessions
- Exercise to burn off hormones such as cortisol
- Try practices such as meditation and yoga on a daily basis, to reduce your stress levels
Poor sleep impacts your immune system and exacerbates ongoing conditions
As we’ve already discussed, if your immune system is having a hard time, it may attack your scalp and induce a temporary form of hair loss. However, this isn’t the only way it will make your hair fall out or slow down growth.
A poor immune system makes chronic conditions worse
From systemic lupus disease through to malnutrition syndromes that arise from gastroenterological diseases, there are lots of chronic conditions that rely on your immune system to stop flare ups from happening too often. When we don’t get enough sleep, our immune systems don’t have the chance to do that. As a result, hair loss as a side effect becomes more common.
You’re inviting an electrolyte imbalance into your hair’s world
In a study published by the Sleep Journal Society, six young and otherwise healthy men were subjected to sleep deprivation. As a result, they began experiencing electrolyte imbalances.
Depending on the type of electrolyte our sleep is imbalancing, we can make hair loss worse. For example, having too little potassium, aka being hypokalemic, makes your hair fall out. While your diet affects your potassium levels too, sleep plays an important role in balancing your electrolytes, so you can’t eat your way out of a bad sleep pattern.
Similarly, having too little salt, aka being hyponatremic, has the same effect. Why? Because our bodies rely on something called a ‘sodium-potassium pump’ to move nutrients and oxygen in and out of our cells. When the sodium-potassium pump suffers, so do your hair’s follicles.
Ways to improve your sleep and reduce hair loss
While the pharmaceutical community provides a wide range of sleep-inducing medications, they don’t allow you to achieve the restorative sleep you need for good hair growth. For example, Temazepam. While it will send you to sleep quite easily, your brain eventually adapts to it. When this happens, your sleep patterns may continue to improve, but you produce a ‘rebound effect’ of only experiencing ‘REM sleep.’ During REM sleep, your body doesn’t meet its maximum restorative potential.
What are the best natural ways to sleep more?
First, you need to look into sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene involves creating an environment that’s ideal for achieving a good night’s sleep. Some of its recommendations reduce hair loss and promote hair growth in other ways. For example, when you engage with sleep hygiene, you drink less alcohol and spend a little time outside getting some Vitamin D. As alcohol depletes some of the essential minerals you need for hair growth, you promote better growth by drinking less. Also, getting more Vitamin D encourages your kidneys to process the electrolytes you need for that sodium-potassium pump, which then means you have healthier hair follicles. Overall, sleep hygiene is an all-around health winner.
Other ways to achieve a better night’s sleep include:
- Exercise each day. When you exercise, you burn off energy and reduce the corticotropin-releasing hormones that promote hair loss.
- Consider a melatonin supplement, if you’re over the age of 50. Experts believe that melatonin is only beneficial in those over the age of 50. However, if you regularly move between time zones, you may also find that it helps balance your circadian rhythm.
- Try using lavender oil. As an essential oil that induces sleep, lavender also contains vitamins the promote better hair growth. You can try applying it to your pillow at night or using it as part of a hair growth mask.
- Magnesium supplements. Magnesium plays a huge role in how our bodies work. It helps to balance your kidneys, which in turn make sure your body processes the electrolytes you need and ditch the toxins that impact your immune system. It reduces your stress levels, which can then make sleep easier.
- Consider your sleeping setup! I recently have been replacing my pillow with a momeory foam pillow for combination sleeper and the quality of my sleep greatly improved. You can check out some awesome pillows for combination sleeper here.
- Even if you haven’t tried meditation before, it is worth attempting as a prophylactic measure. Daily meditation can aid in lowering your blood pressure and reducing stress. At the same time, using a meditation aid at bedtime can ease you into a gentler night’s sleep.
Overall, sleeping is conducive to better hair growth in a number of ways. In addition to boosting your immune system, it balances the hormones that allow your hair to reach its maximum potential. Finally, stress and sleep go hand in hand; so, if your stress levels are high, don’t forget to address them as a part of your usual hair loss prevention routine.