Ultradian rhythms in pituitary and adrenal hormones: their relations to sleep

Sleep Med Rev. 1998 Feb;2(1):17-29. doi: 10.1016/s1087-0792(98)90051-x.


Sleep and circadian rhythmicity both influence the 24-h profiles of the main pituitary and adrenal hormones. From studies using experimental strategies including complete and partial sleep deprivation, acute and chronic shifts in the sleep period, or complete sleep-wake reversal as occurs with transmeridian travel or shift-work, it appears that prolactin (PRL) and growth hormone (GH) profiles are mainly sleep related, while cortisol profile is mainly controlled by the circadian clock with a weak influence of sleep processes. Thyrotropin (TSH) profile is under the dual influence of sleep and circadian rhythmicity. Recent studies, in which we used spectral analysis of sleep electroencephalogram (EEG) rather than visual scoring of sleep stages, have evaluated the temporal associations between pulsatile hormonal release and the variations in sleep EEG activity. Pulses in PRL and in GH are positively linked to increases in delta wave activity, whereas TSH and cortisol pulses are related to decreases in delta wave activity. It is yet not clear whether sleep influences endocrine secretion, or conversely, whether hormone secretion affects sleep structure. These well-defined relationships raise the question of their physiological significance and of their clinical implications.