We all know how beneficial it is to our health to get a good night’s sleep. But for those of you going into peri-menopause and through menopause into your post-menopause years, if you aren’t sleeping all night, then day-after-day can become a struggle. That’s why it’s such a privilege to be able to help women who come onto the MyMT programmes with their sleep. I still remember the struggle I had with not sleeping. Even HRT didn’t work, but I knew that not sleeping night after night, is the slippery slope to worsening cardiac and metabolic health as we age, so I had to look into what was happening during menopause. I’m so pleased I did. When was the last time you slept all night waking up refreshed and ready for your busy day ahead? Can you remember?
Sleep research consistently states that we all need between 7-8 hours of deep, restful sleep each night but if you aren’t sleeping and you’re in menopause, then you aren’t alone! Nearly every single woman who comes on to the MyMT programmes states on her screening form that she has disrupted sleep – hot flushes and night sweats are keeping her awake – and this is despite many already being on HRT. But trying to exist on etween 4-6 hours a night is a good night! But a word of caution – if you are busy and you an exerciser or active with farm-work or nursing or other careers that keep you on the go all day, then only having 4-6 hours a night isn’t enough to recover from your day-to-day activities. When we are sleep-deprived we also experience more brain-fog, sore joints and our metabolism is thrown into chaos, leading to menopause weight gain for many.*
As the lack of sleep begins to accumulate, so too does the brain fog, mid-afternoon fatigue and cravings for sugar. Many of you may start to acquire joint and muscle pain too, because as the sleep-deprivation continues, inflammation throughout your body develops as well as metabolic chaos and for so many women, the weight stacks on.*
Lack of sleep also leads to poor recovery from exercise. Like an over-trained athlete, our heart rate increases and so too does our blood pressure. In fact, not sleeping well and not recovering from exercise can see you on the slippery slope to adrenal fatigue. For many active women, this can also be the start of sore muscles, joints and increased hot flushes as your thyroid goes into over-drive to try and correct the imbalance.
Is this you? If so, then let me explain what’s going on.
It took me a while to unpack what was going on with my own sleep disturbance, so I’m pleased to share with you my 3 main reasons menopause hormonal changes deny you your beautiful health regenerating and rejuvenating sleep:
1. When oestrogen production declines during our menopause transition, this affects other hormones, including your sleep hormone, melatonin. Hormones are chemical messengers which are needed for our body to function properly. They operate on a negative-feedback system which means that when one hormone is either high or low (as is oestrogen and progesterone during our menopause transition), then other hormones kick-in to re-balance our body. So during menopause, other hormones get out of balance too.
Melatonin is a hormone produced by your pituitary gland and it is your ‘go to sleep’ hormone. Your production of it should increase in the evening from around 9pm, but optimal production of it can be affected by your changing reproductive hormones. Production of melatonin is also affected by your diet and factors such as blue light exposure, so what we need to do in the evening, is to change our usual routines to help melatonin production again.
2. Melatonin production is affected by our gut health, so poor gut health affects the quality of our sleep during menopause too. Our gut works on a 24 hour circadian clock, so it becomes a catch-22 when we aren’t sleeping and then we also develop gut problems. Many women arrive in mid-life with gut health problems. This is partly because our exposure to so many processed foods and chemicals over our lifetime may have caused some damage to our gut lining but there are other causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome [IBS], diverticulitis or other gut health issues too. But what you must consider, is that because our digestive system operates on a 24 hour circadian rhythm, then poor gut health can affect your sleep quality in menopause too.*
Sometimes it’s also a case of chicken and egg – which comes first? Part of the problem is that when we have poor gut health, we may not readily absorb the tryptophan (a type of protein) that helps to make melatonin. If this is you, then as I say to women coming onto my programmes, we also need to restore your gut health alongside turning around the natural production of melatonin, so levels are as high as possible before you go to bed. This is the purpose of my Sleep All Night module, which is in both the MyMT programmes.
3. Do you experience night sweats and hot flushes as you go to bed, or during the night? Do you have to change the sheets nearly every morning? It’s so frustrating isn’t it? If this is happening, then this is a sign of disruption to your heat regulation centre in your brain. This is not only caused by low oestrogen, but also by your disrupted sleep-wake cycle. When it happens night after night, then your thyroid gland is trying to over-compensate for the lack of sleep and the lack of oestrogen. Again, it’s the mastery of all your hormones working together to try and keep your body in survival mode. It’s an evolutionary aspect of women’s metabolism.
Interrupted sleep also means changes to our thyroid regulating hormones in our brain. This then has a flow-on effect on our thyroid gland hormones in our neck. Your thyroid helps to control your blood pressure, temperature and metabolism, so the flow-on effect of not sleeping can also cause problems with your heat regulation and for many of you, your weight. It’s why I often say, ‘when you aren’t sleeping, you aren’t fat-burning’!
There are other influences on our sleep quality and quantity during menopause too. Our nutrition quality and timing matters, our stress levels matter as well as the amount of exercise we are doing too. Many women are doing too much exercise, which can throw them into more exhaustion and fatigue when they aren’t sleeping. I see this a lot with very active women who come onto the programmes and I was one of those women too!
We’ve already discovered that, for so many of our mother’s generation, not sleeping for months and sometimes years, is the starting point for changing health, especially inflammation and heart disease. I don’t want this to happen to you. Increasing inflammation from not sleeping can spiral us into more night sweats too which is why we have to sort out our sleep, even in post-menopause. This is what hundreds of women are discovering on the two 12 week MyMT programmes I have developed. I love the excitement when women discover that they can take back control of their beautiful, restorative sleep!
I so remember not sleeping night after night. I took sleep supplements, magnesium and was prescribed HRT, but still no difference to my sleep and night sweats. Now I know why. When I reached my early 50’s, I didn’t even give menopause hormonal changes a thought as the cause of my interrupted sleep. But when the night sweats arrived too and I was kicking off the blankets whilst hubbie was trying to pull them up, I knew that something was amiss!
Glenda was the same too.
That’s why I’m so pleased that she came onto the MyMT ‘Circuit Breaker’ programme
after attending one of my seminars. She hadn’t slept properly for over 4 years. I think we can all understand how exhausted she was feeling!
I would love to help you sort out your sleep, get rid of your night sweats and hot flushes so you have more energy to do the things you love to do. Just as Linda has found too.
“I’m 3 weeks into the programme and really starting to see some changes. Sleeping way better, no more night sweats or hot flushes, energy levels are returning and best of all, lost 3kg in last 2 weeks. The belly fat is starting to shift. Feeling so much better after 6 months of struggling. Thanks Wendy, your programme is awesome.” [Linda M., New Zealand]
Wendy Sweet, PhD/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT Coach.
NB: My 12 week menopause transformation programmes
differ depending on whether you thinner/ leaner or over-weight. Choose either Circuit-Breaker if you are thinner, or Transform Me if you are overweight and want to lose weight. Both programmes cost $299NZ and are available on monthly payments for 3 months. This includes my personalised coaching and the 12 week programme. I can’t wait to help you.
* Sharma, S. & Kavaru, M. (2010). Sleep and metabolism: An overview. Int. Journal of Endocrinology.
* Voigt-Zuwala, R. et al. (2016). Circadian Rhythm and the Gut Microbiome. Int. Review of Neurobiology, 131.