MyMT™ Blog

The connection between your symptoms in menopause and your circadian rhythm.

“What I learnt in your seminar was amazing. I had no idea that I wasn’t recovering from my exercise, because I wasn’t sleeping.” 

I have Australia on my mind. Not only did the evening news remind me that Cairns in Australia is a very hot 32 degrees celcius today, but this week I was supposed to be there again. It’s been a year since I visited with my live Masterclass on Menopause event (this is now ONLINE for you). I was on my morning walk when I met Angela as I entered the cafe she was working in. 

“Wendy, it’s you!” I heard coming from behind the counter. That’s how I met Angela. The previous night she had attended my Masterclass on Menopause seminar with her work colleague and the two of them were talking about it when I walked in. How funny! 

What was the number one thing you learnt last night, that you didn’t know, and you think will help you manage your menopause symptoms?” I asked. 

Angela didn’t pause a beat – “The circadian rhythm! I had absolutely no idea about the connection between my symptoms and my circadian rhythm. I do lots of strength training and very little cardio, so the information about sleep made so much sense. I haven’t been sleeping, so I haven’t been recovering. No wonder I’m suffering with hot flushes and night sweats. Nobody has ever said this to me before, so I can’t thank you enough.”

It’s moments like these that I love. Pockets of knowledge that empower change in our understanding and hopefully, in our behaviour. I hope Angela has made some changes to her lifestyle over the past year. Like Angela, I had no idea how powerful the connection is between our changing hormones in menopause and how this is the time, that we need to change things up a bit with our lifestyle. 

Angela and her friend and the hundreds of women who turned out in Cairns and Mackay exactly a year ago this week, now know that as well. It we aren’t sleeping during our menopause transition this becomes a ticking time-bomb for our health as we age. Our mother’s generation already know this too. 

When we don’t change our lifestyle to allow our menopause transition to occur, our body can go into ‘distress’. Many of us experience this as a whole range of symptoms – hot flushes, night sweats, poor sleep, aching muscles, sore joints, anxiety, depression, anger, frustration, and changing weight. That’s when we seek out all sorts of medications and supplements to try and alleviate the symptoms.

But as I’ve said to women around the world, “this is how menopause gets placed in ‘sickness’ and it shouldn’t. It needs to be all about ‘wellness’ instead. It’s the opposite life-stage to puberty and we didn’t need all those medications and supplements then either. Whilst these can help in the short-term, many of us find that they don’t last and there’s a reason for this … we aren’t changing our food, exercise, stress levels and daily routines to accommodate the changes that occur as we age. As well, too many of us are exhausted before we even go into menopause and many of us end up following diets and exercise regimes that don’t suit our changing hormonal environment. Over time, we just end up feeling worse and nothing works.”

Un-raveling the science of not sleeping as we transition into our new hormonal environment in menopause took me hundreds of hours of study. It’s no surprise that Angela way up there in Cairns, Australia had no idea either.

Insomnia is a major issue for women in menopause. As a women approaches menopause, the levels of oestrogen sharply decrease but so too, do melatonin levels. Melatonin is the hormone that helps to send us off to sleep. There is a complex interaction between oestrogen and melatonin and it’s nothing to do with our ovaries, but all to do with the pituitary gland in the brain and how the hormones produced in this gland become disrupted as we age.

In a region of the brain called the hypothalamus, we all have a gland called the pineal gland. It’s tiny but powerful, because it acts as a central circadian (night/day) pacemaker. It regulates the circadian timing, including the sleep/ wake rhythm in humans. In mammals, the pineal gland is steered by our nervous system, which activates the release of melatonin.

Light turns off the secretion of melatonin by the pineal gland and darkness turns on the secretion of melatonin. Changes in melatonin levels and production can cause numerous effects around the body because melatonin is a regulator of numerous physiological, cell biological functions, not only via the circadian system, but also by direct stimulatory effects in practically every organ in the body. (Jehan, S., Giardin, J., et al. 2017). That’s how this powerful gland controls our sleep/ wake cycle and to ignore this during menopause can throw us into symptom chaos.

The term ‘Circadian’ means “about a day” so our circadian rhythms are daily fluctuations in our biology that can become messed up as we transition through menopause. This internal clock, which gradually becomes established during the first months of life, controls the daily ups and downs of biological patterns, including body temperature, blood pressure, and the release of hormones.

It’s so important to turn around our sleep habits specific to our menopause transition. That’s why, the very first module that women listen to when they come onto either of the MyMT™ programmes is how to sleep all night again. If we aren’t sleeping, our hot flushes and night sweats become worse. So too does our weight, joint health and muscle pain. If we are lying awake between 2 and 4am, then the release of growth hormone does not reach the threshold it needs to for healing and repairing our body. As I mentioned above, this is why I hear from so many women who are avid exercisers and they don’t understand that their sore muscles and joints are due to not just low oestrogen, but also not sleeping! Angela was the same.

Our changing menopause hormones cause disruption to our normal circadian rhythms, so as we transition into or through menopause, it’s really important to restore this biological rhythm and make adjustments to get us back sleeping all night. Sleeping all night is the start. If we don’t, then over time, our brain and body start to read this 2-3am ‘awake’ period as ‘normal’. When women restore their sleep, they restore their energy levels, their joints heal and their hot flushes and night sweats reduce too. Oh, and they also lose weight if they are overweight.

Ageing is typically associated with impairments of the circadian rhythm and a natural decrease in melatonin secretion. And that’s what I tell women in my seminars – menopause is the natural transition into our ageing, but we still feel young! However, inside our body there are powerful changes occurring that affect us and understanding how to slow these changes down using lifestyle strategies is important. When we do, we can resolve our symptoms, lose weight, improve mood and feel fabulous in our fifties all without diving into worsening health in post-menopause!

Menopause is the transition into the next phase of our lives – our ageing. And when oestrogen is low, there are numerous changes that occur in our body, from our pituitary hormones which control sleep, to our muscles to our blood sugar regulation. My studies proved to me that hot flushes, insomnia, sore joints, palpitations and menopause weight gain are not normal and with the right focus, women can thrive during and after this transition. 

But your focus has to shift and that’s why I’ve pulled all the scientifically-evidenced solutions together in the fabulous MyMT™ programmes, which I originally designed for me, but they are now available for you. I hope you can join me if you need to. If you aren’t sure about coming on board with me, then please listen to the webinar that Angela came and listened to when I visited Cairns this week, a year ago. I’ve now put it online for you and you can listen to my video about it HERE.

If you are thinner you might like to look at the ‘Circuit-Breaker’ programme and if you are overweight, then look at the ‘Transform Me’ programme. I would love you to discover how to sleep all night, reduce your symptoms in menopause and get back to feeling like the ‘old-you’ again.

Wendy Sweet, [PhD]  MyMT Founder & Coach/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. 

References:

Davis, S., Castelo-Branco, C. et.al. (2012). Understanding weight gain at menopause. Climacteric, 15: 419–429.

Harvard Health Report (2017). Improving Sleep. Harvard Health Publication

Geddes, L. (2019). Chasing the Sun: The new science of sunlight and how it shapes our bodies and minds. London: Profile Books.

Jehan, S., Giardin, J-L, Auguste, E., et al (2017). Sleep, Melatonin and the Menopausal Transition: What are the links? Sleep Science, 10(1): 11-18.

Reinke H. & Asher G. (2017). Circadian clock control of liver metabolic functions. Gastroenterology, 150: 574–580.

Rizzi, M. et al. (2016). Sleep Disorders in Fibromyalgia Syndrome.  Journal of Pain Relief, 5:2, 1-5

Sharma, S. & Kavuru, M. (2010). Sleep and Metabolism: An Overview. Int. Journal of Endocrinology, Article ID 270832, 1-12.

Woods, N. et al. (2009). Cortisol Levels during the Menopausal Transition and Early Postmenopause: Observations from the Seattle Midlife Women’s Health Study. Menopause, 16(4): 708–718.

“If you have ever wondered if there was a clear easy plan to follow to sleep all night, reduce hot flushes and prevent or reduce your weight gain during menopause, then ‘welcome’ – you’re in the right place now.”

Discover how either of my two Menopause Transformation programmes might help you too or take my Symptoms Quiz below… 

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