Troublesome and frustrating, insomnia can have a variety of causes. But researchers have found a possible link between the hormone known as DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, and sleep quality.
DHEA is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands that helps your body produce sex hormones known as estrogens and androgens. DHEA is also made synthetically from wild yams and soy for use in dietary supplements. As you age, your production of DHEA decreases. According to Medline Plus, DHEA is often used to treat symptoms associated with Alzheimer's disease and to improve cognitive functioning. Some people use DHEA supplementation for its purported energy and muscle-enhancing effects, although there's not much evidence to support claims that it works. However, some research has found that low levels of DHEA may affect sleep quality, and that DHEA supplementation may offer benefits to patients with insomnia.
Insomnia Symptoms, Causes and Treatments
Insomnia occurs in two forms, primary and secondary. Primary insomnia means you have difficulty sleeping not caused by another medical condition. Secondary insomnia, the most common type, results from conditions such as depression, anxiety, Alzheimer's disease or another emotional, neurological or psychological disorder. According to the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute, symptoms of insomnia can cause you to feel tired during the day, have difficulty paying attention, and have diminished energy. Typically, doctors suggest lifestyle changes, such as establishing a regular sleep routine and avoiding substances that can exacerbate insomnia, such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. Some people use natural remedies, such as DHEA, although there is not much evidence to unequivocally support its benefits.
One study, published in January 1995 in the "American Journal of Physiology," found that DHEA supplementation produced an increase in REM, or rapid eye movement, sleep in healthy male study participants. This may show benefits particularly for people suffering from age-related dementia, since REM sleep has an impact on memory. Another study, published in the fall 1998 issue of the "American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry," reports that elderly participants with low levels of DHEA reported high levels of insomnia. However, there's not much evidence to support effects of DHEA on insomnia in the general population.
Although DHEA supplementation may provide some benefit for insomnia, you should not use dietary or herbal supplements to self-treat any symptoms. According to the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute, as many as eight of 10 people have secondary insomnia caused by another medical condition. Consult your doctor to rule out the possibility of an underlying disorder. Inform your doctor if you choose to use a DHEA supplement.
- Medline Plus: DHEA
- National Heart Blood and Lung Institute: Insomnia
- "American Journal of Physiology"; DHEA Administration Increases Rapid Eye Movement Sleep and EEG Power in the Sigma Frequency Range; E. Friess, et al; January 1995
- "American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry"; Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate (DHEA-S) and Psychiatric and Laboratory Measures of Frailty in a Residential Care Population; M. Morrison, et al; Fall 1998