From blue light to a snoring partner, there’s no shortage of outside influences that can screw up your sleep. One potential saboteur, though, actually wreaks its havoc from inside your body: your thyroid. In fact, any sort of misbehavior from this crucial gland can have serious consequences for your sleep.
Here, an endocrinologist breaks down just how a dysfunctional thyroid can derail sleep—and how to regain the rest and balance you need.
Your thyroid and your health
First, a quick refresher: The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in front of your windpipe that plays a key role in regulating metabolism, growth, and development. When you need more energy (such as to nourish a growing baby during pregnancy or maintain your body temperature when it’s cold), thyroid hormones make it happen. The thyroid’s activity influences body functions like how many calories you burn and how fast your heart beats.
The thyroid gland works very closely with the pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland at the base of your brain that pretty much acts as the control center for many of your hormones and hormone-producing glands.
“The pituitary typically keeps your thyroid hormones at stable, normal levels, like a thermostat controls a furnace to keep the temperature in your house stable,” explains board-certified endocrinologist Marie Bellantoni, MD, of the Mercy Center for Endocrinology in Baltimore.
When your thyroid (or pituitary, for that matter) doesn’t function properly, it has widespread effects on your health, including energy levels, weight, and more.
“Unfortunately, both over- and under-active thyroid diseases are relatively common problems,” says Bellantoni. Luckily, they’re both pretty easy to identify with a simple blood test.
Related: The secret to a healthy heart: sleep
How your thyroid affects your sleep
Though thyroid disease isn’t one of the most common causes of sleep problems out there, thyroid hormones do influence whether you feel super-wired or absolutely exhausted.
Hyperthyroidism and sleep
In hyperthyroidism, the condition in which people have too much thyroid hormone, people often feel stuck in “overdrive” mode, explains Bellantoni.
People with hyperthyroidism often feel hot, sweaty, short of breath, and notice an unusually fast heartbeat and unexpected weight loss.
The excess thyroid hormones also overstimulate the nervous system, which can make hyperthyroidism sufferers feel very anxious, nervous, and shaky. Unsurprisingly, these feelings can make falling asleep at night incredibly difficult. “It’s often a similar sensation to feeling overstimulated and having trouble sleeping after drinking too much caffeine,” says Bellantoni.
Hypothyroidism and sleep
On the flip side, hypothyroidism, in which people have too little thyroid hormone, has the opposite effect.
People feel like all of their body systems operate in slow motion, says Bellantoni. “They might feel cold and depressed, have dry skin and a slow heartbeat, and experience weight gain and constipation,” she says.
Hypothyroidism can make you feel so tired that no amount of sleep seems to be enough. You might wake up feeling completely drained—even after a full night of shut-eye.
How to tell if your thyroid is causing your sleep problems
If you’re not sure whether a thyroid issue could be to blame for your sleep struggles, Bellantoni recommends having your doctor run a blood test to confirm whether hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism might be at play. That said, the sleep issues most people have are not caused by thyroid dysfunction, she says.
Luckily, though, if you do have a thyroid condition, diagnosing it and managing your thyroid hormones with medication and the help of your physician can balance your energy and improve your sleep, Bellantoni says.