Will Sleep for Thyroid

We all know sleep is a good idea. But just how important is sleep when it comes to thyroid health? Turns out that your thyroid’s production of hormone is dependent on several other hormones, in particular the right amount of cortisol, melatonin and growth hormone.

Step 1: Nail down your cortisol. I see a lot of patients with cortisol levels that are low when they should be high (that is, in the morning), and high when they should be low (at night, when sleeping). The boss of your cortisol is the hypothalamus – and often the problem is that the control center is inappropriately switched on – actually stuck in the on position. The hypothalamus tells the adrenal glands to make more and more cortisol, particularly at night, and by the morning, the adrenals are exhausted, and can’t make enough.

What does this feel like? Your mind races at night. Perhaps you fall asleep OK, only to awaken to a racing mind at 1am or 2am. It’s hard to fall back asleep. You get out of bed eventually, after tossing and turning, angry and frustrated, wired and tired.

The real problem? The unremitting stress we face. And it becomes a vicious cycle: elevated cortisol at night damages the brain.

High cortisol at night also leads to blood sugar instability – it swings low and high. This makes you hungry at night.

My favorite ways to lower your cortisol before you go to bed? Meditation. Yoga for sleep, a sequence by yoga teacher Ann Dyer, available on DVD. Ashwagandha, an Ayurvedic herb available at your local health food store.

High and low cortisol inhibit thyroid hormone, or more specifically, the production of active thyroid hormone (T3) from inactive thyroid hormone (T4). What about other hormones?

Step 2. Maximize melatonin without taking it. Melatonin, made from serotonin, is a hormone that you release at night and helps you sleep soundly and restoratively. Melatonin also stimulates your thyroid to make more thyroid hormone.

Are you low in melatonin? Symptoms include poor sleep and night-time muscle tension. The New York Times reported in a front-page article last Sunday 5/15/11  a new trend among processed snacks: eat a brownie and get 8 mg of melatonin. However, this is not the best way to sleep better at night and help your thyroid.

I prefer to boost melatonin using normal physiology. Examples include increased morning daylight, particularly bright morning sunlight – using a sunlamp on cloudy days if needed. And while sleeping, one must maximize complete darkness so that you have maximal day/night contrast to perk up your circadian rhythm. This may mean using block out blinds or drapes, blocking out any light coming from digital clocks and using an eye mask. For more info, click on this previous post on melatonin.

Step 3. Exercise at your anaerobic threshold and boost your growth hormone. You’ve heard me state this before – the idea is that when you exercise at your anaerobic threshold, you boost growth hormone. Not surprisingly, growth hormone, like melatonin, stimulates thyroid hormone production. Interval training, where you are at 80% of your maximal heart rate, or weight training, will do the job for you.  Exercising earlier in the day, when you can, will help you sleep better.

Eating a “Paleo” food plan also helps boost growth hormone. You don’t want too much protein as this lowers growth hormone. Ideal is to know your lean body mass, and to eat ¾ to 1 gram of protein per pound of lean (or fat-free) mass.

What are some of the signs that your growth hormone is low? Premature aging, fatty “cushions” above the knees, lack of inner peace, and excessively emotionality, particularly sharp verbal retorts, are common among folks with growth hormone deficiency.




  1. Christiane M. on May 25, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Hi Dr. Sara, just found your website and your words and witty wisdom soothe the soul.

    I have a question about thyroid: I am a 38 year old healthy (although a bit overweight I admit) woman, just started to get pregnant ( 2 mos) and was tested for “borderline low thyroid”. Wanted me to go on synthroid, I said no thank you, now juicing daily (greens and other yummies) cut out all sugar (except fruit) and no bread, alcohol, you get the gist. Taking Iodine, zinc, prenatals, and fish oil supliments. Read your article on adrenals and quitting coffee REALLY helped my stress and mood, and walking daily.

    Is there anything you recommend to aid (besides above) that can help along with pregnancy process? My doctor is stuck on the the thyroid issue, but won’t go on synthetic hormones (considering armour bovine if not pregnant within year? ). I know it’s only two months we’ve been trying, just trying to take good care of my health. At what point does one get concerned pregnancy is not happening and seeks medical advice? Coming out in July to SF (for San Franciscan, now in NY, have “bi-coastal” disorder) and maybe come in for consult?

    Thank you Dr. Sara!

  2. NORMA MARTELLACCI on June 2, 2011 at 3:17 pm

    Hello Dr. Gottfried:
    It is such a wonderful surprise to read your articles and remember when I was exactly like you with my thoughts and healthy patterns. Since postsurgical menopause, I feel so out of control and I would love to get my life back. I know my horomones are out of wack..even my doctor tested me and my thryoid was 5.17 which was the hightest ever and she still refuses to help me with medication and my twin has been on meds forever with her thyroid. My postmenopausal issues….I can write a book…please help me…do you have a clinic I can go to?
    Thanks, Norma