The evenings are rather long in Scotland at the moment. It is light until 10pm and for women in menopause who aren’t sleeping that’s not a good thing at all. I told the women this at my Edinburgh seminar. When I asked who wasn’t sleeping all night, over 150 women put up their hands … and yes, it’s the same in New Zealand, Australia and London too. Menopause-related insomnia is not only exhausting us but for many women it’s sending them into a downward spiral into auto-immune changes, weight gain and more hot flushes too.
We need our sleep.
That’s why I told the women in Edinburgh that their geographical location living in the far north, needs to be managed. Especially at this time of year. Long summer evenings don’t bode well for getting off to sleep. Then I went on to explain the power of our circadian rhythm on our symptoms in menopause and how living in modern society is clashing with our ancient physiology as we transition through menopause into the next phase of our lives. I told them they needed to draw the curtains earlier and have their bedroom as dark as possible. As the summer continues, they must also keep their bedroom cooler than normal. If they don’t do this, then they will have more problems not sleeping. And if they are regular exercisers or want to lose weight or they already have autoimmune or other health problems, then not sleeping deeply overnight means that they aren’t recovering and healing.
If we aren’t sleeping between the hours of 2-4am, then we aren’t getting our precious deep, recovery sleep. The body needs sleep as much as it needs awake time and the reason for this, is that when we sleep we heal our immune system.
When women come onto the MyMT™ programmes, the very first module they listen to is how to sleep all night. It’s the foundation of turning around our symptoms in menopause. Sharing knowledge about our menopause transition is what I’m so passionate about and having a room-full of mid-life women to talk to fills me with gratitude. And how cool was it that Isobel and Helene were there with me too? Both are on the MyMT™ programmes and it’s such a privilege to have them come along and for me to meet them in person. When Isobel said she was still struggling a bit with her sleep, I knew she was listening when I spoke about how our geographical location is often against us when we go into menopause. It’s the same for women living in the deep-south of New Zealand – they have longer evenings in summer too.
That’s why I was so delighted to get this message from Isobel this morning.
“Everything you have put together in this programme is perfect for me. I went home from your talk, drew the curtains and resolved to sleep through the night with your suggestions. I used to wake up and have a cup of tea and read at 3am. But I now understand that this isn’t helping me because I play a lot of tennis. Well, I’m happy to report that I have slept right through for 2 nights!”
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 mentioned to the women attending the seminar, 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 Scotland and New Zealand have some of the highest incidence of post-menopause heart disease. 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 sleeping all night. It helps to reduce their worsening symptoms in menopause. When they sleep and restore their energy levels, they do indeed “feel like a different person.”
How does our body heal overnight?
The human immune system and sleep are both associated and influenced by each other. That’s why sleep deprivation makes our body susceptible to many infections. But for women in menopause, there is another added factor. As I mention in my seminars, menopause is the biological gateway to our ageing years, and as such, we have changes related to ageing going on all around our body. This includes our immune system which is under programmed senescence. This is the term which describes programmed biological ageing. Think of autumn leaves discolouring and falling from a tree. This is an example of programmed senescence in plants. Because we are ageing, our immune system is too and as such, it doesn’t produce as many immune-fighting lymphocyte cells in our bone marrow. When we don’t sleep, we are behind the eight-ball with our immune health even more.
Sleep deprivation makes a living body susceptible to many infectious agents too.
Have you ever wondered why we are programmed to sleep? I become curious about this when I wasn’t sleeping during menopause either. It was driving me insane, literally. I knew that my body wasn’t healing and recovering overnight and not sleeping was leaving me too exhausted to recover from the exercise I love to do. At the time, I also didn’t understand that not sleeping was blocking fat-loss mechanisms overnight and causing increased hot flushes too because blood pressure and cortisol remain higher during the day when we don’t sleep.
I talk a lot about cortisol during my seminars. As we move into menopause, it’s this hormone which needs to be settled down. Cortisol is one of our chronic stress hormones and it’s important to women in menopause who aren’t sleeping, because it works in synergy or partnership with our sleep hormone melatonin. If cortisol levels are too high when we go to bed, then we don’t produce enough melatonin to keep us asleep for the healing hours of between 2-4am.
Then if melatonin levels are lower than normal, we either can’t get off to sleep or we wake up in the night or we don’t sleep deeply enough to have the restorative sleep that we so need to keep our energy levels up for all that we do in our day.
“Our capacity to remain healthy is badly affected by loss of sleep and sense of comfort” reports researchers who have looked at the role of sleep on the immune system. They go on to state that our white blood cells, called leukocytes, don’t reach the levels that they should due to lack of sleep and this makes us vulnerable to sickness, flu and immune system health changes. For women in menopause, this also means the autoimmune problem of fibromyalgia.
When we don’t sleep and our sleep-wake cycle is affected, then our nervous system is also affected. Our nervous system and the chemical neuro-transmitters help to dampen down cortisol overnight and allow blood pressure to reduce too. Overnight our nervous system and immune system work together – this is why when women are going through menopause and are waking up night after night, they feel wired, they feel hotter than normal and their muscles and joints remain sore. In other words they remain ‘inflamed’.
Inflammation in the body makes our symptoms worse. There is a new term hitting lifestyle research at the moment and I always mention it in my seminars. The term is ‘inflammaging’.
This refers to chronic, low-grade inflammation that characterises ageing. And as I keep reminding women, even though we feel young, inside our body, our cells are ageing. Then when we aren’t sleeping, we aren’t healing from all the stress that we are under. Especially those women (as I was too) doing lots of high-intensity exercise. Like over-trained athletes, we then fail to heal properly when we don’t sleep. Inflammation builds up and then involves several tissues and organs, including the gut microbiota.
Professors Garry Egger and John Dixon show the characteristics of both pro and anti-inflammatory influences and I show this in my seminars. From an evolutionary perspective, a variety of stimuli keep us in the ‘inflammaging’ cycle and I include menopause-related hormone changes in this too. As professor Egger states, “We have been operating in silo’s. We haven’t been taking into account all the other effects on inflammation, including ageing.”
Over the past few days in Edinburgh, I have had the chance to meet so many women at my seminar. In this seminar, I took them on a journey of how we can turn around this ‘inflammaging’. For women coming to join me on the online MyMT programmes I coach them how to do this by first and foremost, getting them to sleep all night, improving liver health, and having specific nutrients that help to reduce inflammation in our body as we age. This includes foods such as beets and celery, which help to improve blood pressure control and from following the best diet that has been researched for improving women’s health as they age – the Mediterranean diet.
I can’t wait for you to join me too. And as a special celebration of our new website and with over 2000 women now having gone through this fabulous online lifestyle-change programme in over 15 countries, it would be my privilege to support and guide you. If you are thinner or leaner, then the Circuit Breaker programme is ON SALE for the 2 weeks only. Use the promo code RESTART2019 to begin your menopause transformation and say goodbye to sleepless nights.
When my own symptoms overwhelmed me, I knew that women in menopause were forgotten when it comes to how to turn around symptoms and improve our health as we age. That’s why I designed MyMT™ -it’s the only programme that focuses on the integration of ALL of the solutions that we need to put into place to prevent changing health from menopause-related changes as we age.
Dr Wendy Sweet, PhD/ Women’s Healthy Ageing Researcher & MyMT™ Lifestyle Coach
Asif N., Iqbal R., et. Al. (2017). Human immune system during sleep. American J. Clin Exp Immunol.,6 (6):92-96
Egger, G. & Dixon, J. (2009). Obesity and chronic disease: always offender or often just accomplice. British Journal of Nutrition, 102, 1238-1242.
Franceschi, C. et al. (2018) Inflammaging: a new immune-metabolic viewpoint for age-related diseases. Nat. Rev Endocrinology, 14(10):576-590.