Circadian and sleep-dependent regulation of hormone release in humans

Recent Prog Horm Res. 1999;54:97-130; discussion 130-2.


Daily oscillations characterize the release of nearly every hormone. The circadian pacemaker, located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, generates circadian, approximately 24-hour rhythms in many physiologic functions. However, the observed hormonal oscillations do not simply reflect the output of this internal clock. Instead, daily hormonal profiles are the product of a complex interaction between the output of the circadian pacemaker, periodic changes in behavior, light exposure, neuroendocrine feedback mechanisms, gender, age, and the timing of sleep and wakefulness. The interaction of these factors can affect hormonal secretory pulse frequency and amplitude, with each endocrine system differentially affected by these factors. This chapter examines recent advances in understanding the effects on endocrine rhythms of a number of these factors. Sleep exerts a profound effect on endocrine secretion. Sleep is a dynamic process that is characterized by periodic changes in electrophysiologic activity. These electrophysiologic changes, which are used to mark the state and depth of sleep, are associated with periodic, short-term variations in hormonal levels. The secretion of hormones such as renin and human growth hormone are strongly influenced by sleep or wake state, while melatonin and cortisol levels are relatively unaffected by sleep or wake state. In addition, sleep is associated with changes in posture, behavior, and light exposure, each of which is known to affect endocrine secretion. Furthermore, the tight concordance of habitual sleep and wake times with certain circadian phases has made it difficult to distinguish sleep and circadian effects on these hormones. Specific protocols, designed to extract circadian and sleep information semi-independently, have been developed and have yielded important insights into the effects of these regulatory processes. These results may help to account for changes in endocrine rhythms observed in circadian rhythm sleep disorders, including the dyssomnia of shift work and visual impairment. Yet to be fully investigated are the interactions of these factors with age and gender. Characterization of the factors governing hormone secretion is critical to understanding the temporal regulation of endocrine systems and presents many exciting areas for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Hormones / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Light
  • Sleep / physiology*


  • Hormones