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.
If you feel like this and you’re going through menopause, then you’re not alone.
Wakefulness, light sleeping and insomnia (not being able to get back to sleep) is linked to your changing reproductive hormones during menopause. 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 powerful circadian rhythm at this stage of life too. It’s why, when you lie awake night after night, your body doesn’t heal overnight. Joints become sore, muscles ache, your gut plays up and for those of you putting on weight, you struggle to lose your belly-fat and your hot flushes can become worse too. As I discovered too, the HRT and supplements kick in for a while, but eventually many of these don’t work well either. It’s frustrating. You start to lose hope which is what happened to me as well. But through my studies, I learnt that changing health in menopause doesn’t happen to all women, and I became curious as to why.
For millions of women around the world, not sleeping during their menopause transition, then 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, tired muscles, more hot flushes and feeling bad tempered too.
I still remember when I couldn’t sleep night after night. I was up and down like a yo-yo and it didn’t help that hubbie was lying there snoring blissfully unaware of my despair. The supplements didn’t help nor did the HRT. Although I knew that not sleeping is the slippery slope to fibromyalgia and other auto-immune diseases, the one I was most concerned about, was the weight gain. This is because when we don’t get our deep, healing sleep, our hormones that help us to burn fat overnight become disrupted too.
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.
Why your Sleep is Important to Conquer in Menopause:
Scientists divide sleep into two major types: REM (rapid eye movement) sleep or dreaming sleep, and non-REM or quiet, healing sleep. Sleep specialists have called non-REM sleep “an idling brain in a movable body.” During this phase, thinking and most bodily functions slow down, but movement can still occur, and a person often shifts position while sinking into deeper stages of sleep. When we go to bed and start to fall asleep, both phases last around 4 hours or more.
After your REM sleep, comes your deeper sleep, or your non-REM sleep. This 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.
It’s this deep sleep that is really important for us to have during menopause because this is the time that your body heals, renews and repairs cells and tissues.
But there’s more to the sleep story for us girls’ during menopause. We need to have deep sleep in order to activate our immune system. so for those of you doing lots of higher intensity exercise or 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.
Just as deep sleep restores your body, scientists also know that REM or dreaming sleep restores your mind, perhaps in part by helping clear out irrelevant information. A very important task for a generation of women with a lot going on in their lives still! 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.
But if 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. 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!
We need sleep to build and retain muscle or allow your body to recover from your bouts of exercise. The other concern is that 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 which is already low not only due to changing levels of oestrogen in menopause, but because we are ageing! 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.
If this is you, then 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.
That’s why I love getting women like Iris, who is 70 years old sleeping all night. It’s doing more for her heart health as she ages, than any nutritional changes will! Have a listen to what she says in this 60 second video – ‘My life has changed ..”
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 and children. 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! Dianne from Brisbane does as well. How fabulous does she look now.
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.
How to turn around your sleep, liver health, nutrition, and improve your energy again during menopause is all in two fabulous 12 week online coaching programmes that you listen to in your own time. 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.
Both programmes are $99NZ a month for 3 months and this includes my private coaching. READ MORE HERE …
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 .
Hundreds of women are experiencing the excitement and renewed energy from sleeping all night and getting rid of their hot flushes and night sweats without resorting to hormonal medications. Remember too, if you need to lose weight, then you must get your sleep sorted.
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.
If you would like to join me on either of my 12 week online programmes then come on board when you can. 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™Creator and Lifestyle Coach/ Member: Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine.
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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.