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      On the Gender Differences in Sleep-Endocrine Regulation in Young Normal Humans

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          Sleep-endocrine regulation in humans involves high activity of the somatotropic axis at the beginning of the night and an increase in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical (HPA) system during the night. Gender differences were examined with regard to sleep-endocrine regulation in young healthy controls (10 men, 9 women). The sleep EEG was recorded (23:00–07:00 h) and plasma samples were collected and analyzed for GH, cortisol and ACTH at 20-min intervals. Cortisol secretion was significantly higher in females during the first half of the night (F = 9.9, p < 0.05), while ACTH was not different. In women, sleep-EEG analysis showed less slow wave sleep (SWS) during the second half of the night (F = 4.5, p < 0.05) and a significantly greater decrease in SWS and delta activity from the first to the second half of the night (F = 3.7 and 7.4, respectively, p < 0.05). Sigma activity increased during the night in women only (F = 3.7, p < 0.05). Our data are compatible with the hypothesis that in women compared to men activity of hypothalamic CRH neurons and central CRH release is greater, but is not reflected by greater HPA activity.

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          Most cited references 9

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          Gonadal steroid hormone receptors and sex differences in the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis.

          The rapid activation of stress-responsive neuroendocrine systems is a basic reaction of animals to perturbations in their environment. One well-established response is that of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. In rats, corticosterone is the major adrenal steroid secreted and is released in direct response to adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) secreted from the anterior pituitary gland. ACTH in turn is regulated by the hypothalamic factor, corticotropin-releasing hormone. A sex difference exists in the response of the HPA axis to stress, with females reacting more robustly than males. It has been demonstrated that in both sexes, products of the HPA axis inhibit reproductive function. Conversely, the sex differences in HPA function are in part due to differences in the circulating gonadal steroid hormone milieu. It appears that testosterone can act to inhibit HPA function, whereas estrogen can enhance HPA function. One mechanism by which androgens and estrogens modulate stress responses is through the binding to their cognate receptors in the central nervous system. The distribution and regulation of androgen and estrogen receptors within the CNS suggest possible sites and mechanisms by which gonadal steroid hormones can influence stress responses. In the case of androgens, data suggest that the control of the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus is mediated trans-synaptically. For estrogen, modulation of the HPA axis may be due to changes in glucocorticoid receptor-mediated negative feedback mechanisms. The results of a variety of studies suggest that gonadal steroid hormones, particularly testosterone, modulate HPA activity in an attempt to prevent the deleterious effects of HPA activation on reproductive function.
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            Circadian rhythms and episodic hormone secretion in man.

             E Weitzman (1975)
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              Sleep, gender, and depression: an analysis of gender effects on the electroencephalographic sleep of 302 depressed outpatients.

              Gender-related differences in electroencephalographic (EEG) sleep were examined in 151 pairs of men and women with major depression, all outpatients, matched for age and severity of depression. Across five decades (age 21-69), depressed men had less slow-wave sleep than did depressed women. Gender differences were small with respect to visually scored measures of slow-wave sleep time and percent, but moderate for gender differences in automated measures of slow-wave density. The time constant of the polygraph preamplifier significantly affected both visually scored and automatically scored slow-wave sleep. Other measures such as REM sleep latency, first REM period duration, sleep efficiency, and early morning awakening, showed robust age effects, but no main effects for gender or gender-by-age interactions. Gender effects on slow-wave sleep and delta-wave counts in depression parallel gender effects seen in healthy aging. The possibility of occult alcohol use by depressed male outpatients cannot be definitely excluded as a partial explanation of the current findings. However, covarying for past alcohol abuse did not negate the statistical significance of the observed gender effects on slow-wave sleep and delta-wave density. The possibility of gender differences in slow-wave regulatory mechanisms is suggested, but similarity in temporal distribution of delta-wave density between the first and second non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) periods does not support gender differences in slow-wave sleep regulation.

                Author and article information

                S. Karger AG
                October 1999
                14 October 1999
                : 70
                : 4
                : 280-287
                Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany
                54487 Neuroendocrinology 1999;70:280–287
                © 1999 S. Karger AG, Basel

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                Page count
                Figures: 5, Tables: 3, References: 46, Pages: 8
                Clinical Neuroendocrinology


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