In the spring of 2009 was assaulted by a phenomenal amount of stress that was well beyond my control. Sleep and I had become distant friends so, at times, my only recourse was washing away the distress in my long therapeutic showers and baths. But this haven of healing soon became the site where the impact of my chronically underslept brain began to manifest its rude reality. As I was rinsing out the conditioner, I heard a tearing sound but dismissed it. I looked down at my feet to witness a large chunk of hair pouring down the drain. I had already been losing a considerable amount of hair but told myself it must be my seven-year shed. As I was blow-drying my hair, I noticed a smooth patch on the right side of my skull, I ran to the mirror to find a bald patch the size of my fist! I sobbed on the phone to my helpless boyfriend for hours.
Like it or not, for us women, there is a correlation between the way we look and the way we feel. And on this day I felt repulsive, inferior, and ashamed.
We have mistakenly come to accept that with tight deadlines comes loose sleep goals. We cope with feeling rubbish for a few days because we know that, come zero hour, we can repay our sleep debt within a week and feel restored. But when the effects of chronic sleep deprivation begin to endure and corrode our long-term health and appearance we have no choice but to evaluate our lifestyle.
Chronic stress significantly corrodes our sleep architecture which, when disrupted, results in an internal disturbance. Our mental and physical health and wellbeing Hair and nails are made from the leftovers of the body’s nutrition; so, healthy hair is evidence of a healthy body, and unhealthy hair is a sign of a sick body. With regards to stress-induced hair loss, the mechanism of action is a double-whammy!
The Adrenaline-Melatonin Power Struggle
Research indicates a close correlation between Melatonin and hair growth. Melatonin is a hormone that helps regulate other hormones and maintains our circadian rhythm. Melatonin is very shy and can easily be bullied by Adrenaline. Adrenaline is empowered by an army of supporters such as caffeine, stress, sunlight, and blue light. Melatonin will only feel safe to come out of hiding when it has been dark for at least one hour, and Adrenalin's army is nowhere in sight. If we are chronically stressed, the delicate Melatonin-Adrenaline balance is disrupted.
Healthy hair growth is particularly affected by our hormonal balance which is moderated during optimal sleep hours. For a health quality and quantity of hair growth, we must sleep between 7.5 - 9.5 hours in a 24-hour cycle for melatonin to maintain the right balance of hormones throughout the body. One such hormone is Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the sexy hormone both men and women have but to varying degrees, but that degree is maintained by the work of melatonin. A study that included 40 women with alopecia gave 20 women melatonin and 20 a placebo. Within just 6 months the melatonin group enjoyed an overwhelming amount of hair growth. The effect melatonin has on hair growth is the antioxidant properties.
The presence of the appropriate levels of melatonin in the body creates the right environment for healthy hair growth by reducing the free radicals that destroy the hair follicles. Melatonin blocks the DHT receptor sites in the hair follicles by modulating the levels of the enzyme, 5-alpha reductase, at the DHT hair follicles receptor sites at which converts testosterone to DHT. Effectively, high levels of testosterone cause hair loss. However, too much or too little melatonin has the opposite effect! When the wrong amount of melatonin is running around the body Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) is also allowed free reign. This result in the hair follicles shrinking thereby reducing the quality and quantity of hair over time.