It comes up on you suddenly doesn’t it? For years, you’ve slept all night – exhausted with all that you had to get done in your day, your head would hit the pillow and you’d sleep until your alarm went off in the morning. Now you can only imagine what those blissful nights used to feel like. So, what happened?
If you are like me, you had no idea that your insomnia was anything to do with peri-menopause. But night after night, you’re awake and watching the clock. You get up to go to the loo and think this is why you are waking up, but when the night sweats arrive, it becomes even more confusing. Some of you are only in your early 40’s as well – “it can’t be menopause” you think.
What do you think about when you are lying awake at 2am, or 3am or 4am? Do you plan your day ahead or are you just despairing because night after night you aren’t sleeping and you can feel your energy being sucked out of you? You know that the day ahead is another busy one and your brain will be fuzzy and fatigued. Everyone blames ‘menopause’ but they shouldn’t.
Because menopause is not the issue. All women go through this life-stage.
The issue is that nobody is telling us how to change our lifestyle to match our declining reproductive hormones.
Menopause is the transition into our normal biological ageing. But how do we look after ourselves so we don’t experience the pathway towards an un-healthy ageing that our mothers generation has mainly experienced too? Some of you are unhealthy already? You feel hot, tired, aching and your blood work is showing that your cholesterol, blood pressure and liver enzymes are changing – some of you might already be overweight or perhaps you are finding that your joints and muscles are sore too. But perhaps like me, you have no idea that these other changes in your health are to do with menopause too.
When this happened to me, I decided to put some women’s healthy ageing research and the emerging discipline of lifestyle-medicine research into this phase of our lives and now thousands of women just like you, are pleased I did as well.
Wakefulness, light sleeping and insomnia (not being able to get back to sleep) is linked to your changing reproductive hormones during menopause but it is also linked to our modern lifestyle as well.
When oestrogen starts to decline, so too does our beautiful sleep hormone called Melatonin. But there’s other reasons for your sleep hormones to decline and it’s not just to do with low oestrogen – it’s to do with your transition into the next phase of your life and the changes to your circadian rhythm that occur as we age and how this is linked to other hormones in your body as well.
There is a powerful link between your sleep hormones, thyroid hormones, stress hormones and your gut hormones too.
Not sleeping night after night is exhausting. You can begin to lose hope which is what happened to me as well. And there’s more concern as well. For millions of women around the world, not sleeping during their menopause transition, sends them spiraling into more health chaos as they age. Not sleeping leads to ongoing inflammation in our muscles, joints, pancreas and heart. This inflammation then sends us into the cascade of chronic health changes that hit us in our post-menopause years, including auto-immune health problems. It’s partly why women end up with sore joints, aching muscles, more hot flushes and feeling bad tempered too. But I want to reassure you that you can turn all this health chaos around.
Un-raveling the science of not sleeping as we transition into our new hormonal environment in menopause took me hundreds of hours of study, but I was so determined to understand why I wasn’t sleeping. Nobody told me it was all to do with the clash between my changing hormones in menopause and the lifestyle I was still trying to lead whilst my hormones were changing.
Deep sleep between the hours of 2-4am is when we are recovering from our day to day activities. For those of you who are active and regular exercisers, it’s important for your recovery. If you’re doing weight training to grow muscles, your deep non-REM sleep is important for your recovery too.
Non-REM sleep is characterised by slow brain waves called delta waves. When your brain slows down, you allow your body to enter deep sleep. Breathing becomes more regular. Blood pressure falls, and the pulse slows to about 20% to 30% below the waking rate. The brain is less responsive to external stimuli, making it difficult to wake up. When we are in our deep non-REM sleep, this is the time that your body heals, renews and repairs cells and tissues. If we don’t get this sleep, then our menopause symptoms become worse. Despite the HRT and endless supplements that are so heavily marketed to us at this stage of life.
Deep sleep activates our immune system. That’s why for those of you doing lots of higher intensity exercise or if you are weight training, then not sleeping may be causing your performance to drop and your muscles and joints to remain sore for longer after training.
When we get this deep, restorative sleep (between 2-4am), blood flow is directed less toward your brain, which cools measurably. At the beginning of this stage, the pituitary gland releases a pulse of growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. However, when we are lying awake between 2 and 4am, then this release of growth hormone does not reach the threshold it needs to for healing and repairing our body. 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!
But there’s more to this too – when we aren’t sleeping well and growth hormone is low, our blood sugar hormone called insulin remains high. So too, does our chronic stress hormone called cortisol. This powerful combination of high insulin and high cortisol competes with your sleep hormone, called melatonin. This is one of the main causes of insomnia and weight gain in menopause too because when insulin remains higher than normal, we don’t fat-burn overnight – we also wake up!
The lower that melatonin is before you go to bed and the lower it stays overnight, the more awake you feel. The more awake you feel, the busier your brain and the more hot flushes you have …. night after night, it happens … and over time, your brain and your hormones are now reading this as your ‘new normal’.
As many of you already know – the result is daily fatigue, exhaustion, irritability and with your insulin levels all mixed up overnight, the weight starts to increase around our belly too.
So, if you are struggling with your sleep, then please don’t despair! Here are my 3 top reasons why you aren’t sleeping in menopause:
- Your Circadian Rhythm is out of balance. 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. That’s why in the MyMT ‘Transform Me’ weight loss programme and the MyMT Circuit Breaker symptom-reduction programme, the first module you listen to is simply called ‘Sleep All Night’. Without this precious sleep, your body doesn’t burn fat.
Our changing menopause hormones cause disruption to our normal circadian rhythms, so as we transition into or through menopause, then it’s really important to restore this biological rhythm and make adjustments to get us back sleeping all night. If we don’t, then over time, our brain and body start to read this 2-3am ‘awake’ period as ‘normal’.
2. Your thyroid hormones are out of balance. Because of the powerful link between your pituitary hormones in your brain and your thyroid hormones, and because hormones in the body all work in harmony with each other, when your reproductive hormones change as you go into menopause, your other hormones start to adjust to re-balance the body. Especially your thyroid hormones that control your blood pressure, heat regulation, stress levels and moods. These get out of balance too and it’s why, when you address your circadian rhythm, your thyroid re-balances too. An it’s why you need beautiful iodine-rich foods to help balance your thyroid as you move through menopause too.
3. Inflammation builds up as we age, including in our nervous system. When we all lead such busy lives, it’s so important to get our sleep sorted as we move into menopause. I can’t reiterate this enough. As I often mention in my seminars, when we have been waking up night after night, then our brain and body reads this as our ‘new normal’. But this is what leads us down the path of inflammation. Not sleeping is now recognised as one of the main contributing factors to changing health as we move into our post-menopause years and it contributes to heart disease too. Both the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand have some of the highest incidence of post-menopause heart disease globally. America is up there too. But here’s the thing – if we aren’t sleeping, our heart and immune system stay under stress all day long, particularly, when we are regular exercisers or we have busy, stressful jobs or home environments.
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. They do indeed “feel like a different person.”
Waking after about three hours of sleep is particularly common and many women experience hot flushes, night sweats or want to get up and have a pee (yes, we have oestrogen receptors in our bladder as well). But the other main issue is weight gain.
Not getting enough sleep makes you more likely to gain weight, according to a review article in the journal Obesity, that analyzed findings from 36 studies. The link appears to be especially strong among women during menopause. Lack of sufficient sleep tends to disrupt hormones that control hunger and appetite, and the resulting daytime fatigue often discourages you from exercising or eating healthily. How I remember those days so well!
When I began to look into our menopause symptoms as part of my women’s healthy ageing studies, I began to understand that our menopause transition is a natural transition that all women go through. But for millions of women, this stage of their lives can result in all sorts of mayhem, and it all starts with not sleeping well. We must turn this around for our improved health as we age.
How to achieve this as well as learning how to restore your liver health, change your nutrition to suit your menopause transition and improve your energy, is all in two fabulous 12 week online step-by-step coaching programmes that you do in your time at your pace with my support. The Circuit Breaker programme is for you if you are thinner/ leaner and the Transform Me programme is for you if you are overweight and struggling to lose weight.
You also can contact me anytime if something needs to be adjusted to better suit your situation as I know that we are all different in terms of how we live our lives. My private coaching community on Facebook is part of your transformation too – there are hundreds of women just like you who now feel supported and more knowledgeable about what is really going on during our menopause transition.
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. 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 too.
Wendy Sweet, PhD/ MyMT™Creator and Lifestyle Coach/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
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