The contradiction between our inner world of drives and passions and our external world of obligations and commitments, has been a recurrent theme in a range of analyses in the social sciences, in particular for women in mid-life, I mentioned in my doctoral studies. It seems a long time ago that I was exploring the work of Sociologist, Anthony Elliott and his work on concepts of the self.
His research has been pivotal in bringing attention to the various societal, cultural and personal influences that shape all of us over the life-course in navigating the construction of ‘self’.
Further studies now confirm there are many psychological, social, cultural and physical influences that contribute to our sense of self. Many social science researchers acknowledge that these influences are embedded in the meanings we attribute to the world that we live in – in other words, throughout our life, numerous influences shape our beliefs about how we want to live our lives.
Women’s ageing and menopause is no exception.
With millions of women passing into their mid-life menopause transition each year, as well as the ageing of the last of the Baby-boomers (those born up to 1964 who are now in their late 50s), there is increasing marketing attention being given to our demographic.
I’m sure you know what I mean when I say that diverse themes are appearing in the ever-growing marketing space focusing on menopausal women. These include, healthy ageing (often wrongly contextualized as ‘sexy ageing‘ which has its genesis in celebrity and fitness culture and body-image, but this has little to do with healthy ageing), weight loss, menopause supplements, pharmaceutical treatments, career and retirement decisions and of course, physical activity and fitness.
However, in the variety of these themes, I think that there is one thing that gets missed – and that is, as Anthony Elliott alluded to, the competing interests between our ‘ideal self’ and our ‘actual self‘. Many of us find that because we have a lot going on in our lives, there is very little time, energy or motivation to pursue ideals of healthy ageing – especially when we aren’t sleeping and feel like crap!
Sleep is the foundation for our healthy ageing. However, 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. It’s partly why women end up with sore joints, aching muscles, more hot flushes and feeling bad tempered too.
Insomnia is defined by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) as “the perception or complaint of inadequate or poor-quality sleep”. Characteristics include –
- difficulty falling asleep
- waking up frequently during the night with difficulty returning to sleep
- waking up too early in the morning
- un-refreshing sleep.
Unfortunately, many of these characteristics have become normalised for people the world over – including women in menopause and post-menopause.
But here’s the thing. Menopause is not the issue. All women go through this life-stage. As I often say to women, “Menopause is the biological gateway to our ageing. The issue with our symptoms is that we have been forgotten about in terms of understanding how to change our lifestyle to allow our body to accommodate hormonal changes as we move through mid-life.”
Un-raveling the science of not sleeping specific to our menopause transition, took me hundreds of hours of study, but I was so determined to understand why I wasn’t sleeping, despite the endless supplements and HRT. 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.
Getting deep, restorative sleep (between 2-4am), is also important to reduce our night sweats as well. When we sleep more deeply, blood flow is directed less toward your brain, which cools measurably. Your temperature regulation mechanisms are situated in your brain too.
But the main thing about our deep sleep is that during this time of the night, the pituitary gland releases a pulse of growth hormone that stimulates tissue growth and muscle repair. That’s why, when we are lying awake between 2 and 4am, 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 don’t understand that their sore muscles and joints are due to not just low oestrogen, but also to not sleeping!
But there’s more to this story too – and that’s to do with our menopause weight gain. There are hundreds of diets for women in menopause, that only focus on food, but it’s not about food! 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. Lack of sufficient sleep disrupts hormones that control hunger and appetite, and the resulting daytime fatigue often discourages you from exercising or eating healthily.
If you are struggling with your sleep, then please don’t despair! Because I want to share with you 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. This is why 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 and you ensure that you get adequate iodine and folate in your diet, from leafy greens, fish, salmon, seaweed products and other food sources, your thyroid re-balances too. Iodine-rich foods help to balance your thyroid as you move through menopause too.
3. Inflammation builds up as we move through menopause, including in our nervous system. This is why many of you feel anxious, get palpitations and feel ‘wired’ and can’t sleep. 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 towards the build-up of inflammation in our cells and tissues. Not sleeping is now recognised as one of the main contributing factors to changing health as we move into our post-menopause years and for women going into post-menopause, the concern is the rising statistics for heart disease. 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. This causes more inflammation in cells and tissues and in ageing research, is known as oxidative stress or ‘inflammaging’.
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. This starts with not sleeping well.
With another 20-30 years of living ahead of us, I am passionate that women turn around their sleep, weight and other symptoms as they go through menopause.
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. But if you want to start with understanding what is happening in menopause, then perhaps commence with my 2 hr webinar which I’ve called your ‘Masterclass on Menopause‘. There is only a small admin fee of NZ$15/ UK£10 for this as I host you in my learning area. And yes, despite it being 2 hours long, you can ‘pause’ me any time you like. I tell you about it in the short video below.
Wendy – read my story here.
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Harvard Health Report (2017). Improving Sleep. Harvard Health Publication
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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
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