That was me all through my 40s. At 3:16 a.m. most mornings, to be exact.
I’d wake up, look at the time (of course) and then get out of bed and go “prowling”. Well, that’s what Jeff called it.
There was simply no use in trying to get back to sleep. I’d given up on the “will myself back to sleep” lark. It’s funny… but not funny haha at 3:16 a.m…. why is it that in those moments, the sound of someone else gently snoring (Jeff, lol) could suddenly become annoying, as if it was his fault that I couldn’t sleep?
The idea that it could be menopause-related never once crossed my mind. That’s something that happens when you’re at least 50, no? I didn’t know that peri-menopause generally starts around 35 to 40. I didn’t even like the word.
But it’s changing quickly now, and the topic is being more openly discussed. In fact, it’s World Menopause Day today.
Anyway, I’ve since learnt that difficulty in falling asleep, trouble staying asleep or waking up earlier than desired, are all elements of insomnia, and it’s a common symptom during menopause.
But is it because of the menopause itself?
I decided to dig into the research. (That’s what over five years of doing an evidence-based degree does to you, lol).
Here’s what I found.
About one-third to half of all women between 40 and 64 suffer from poor sleep, but interestingly, over half were already poor sleepers while they were pre-menopausal. It’s thought that one of the reasons for this is that new mums learn how to sleep with one eye and one ear open from the birth of their first child, and then don’t get their sleep rhythm back.
And while the research showed a clear link between hot flushes and disturbed sleep, it also found that not everyone who had disturbed sleep experienced hot flushes.
Then there’s the chicken and the egg.
Poor sleep itself can contribute to hot flushes, because it adds to your stress levels, which trigger stress hormones, which elevate stress levels further, which then contribute back to hot flushes.
What’s more, cortisol (stress hormone) suppresses melatonin, the hormone that encourages sleep. And when melatonin is too low, this can lead to more hot flushes and night sweats, and now, we’re back to disrupted sleep.
But what if you don’t have hot flushes?
Take a look at what else could contribute to poor sleep.
- An overstimulated nervous system can churn through certain neurotransmitters which can reduce melatonin activity. It could be stress. It could be that incessant monkey mind. We’re the generation that’s caught looking after both the kids and our aging parents. In clinic, this can be seen on an organic acids test (an easy to do urine test that’s done at home).
- Eating too much sugar, processed or refined foods, which stimulates insulin and throws your blood sugar levels out of balance. This one I know firsthand. Even now, if I go over my threshold for sweet things, I will either have a challenge with falling asleep, or wake up with a night sweat.
- Not eating enough of the right things to provide sustenance through the night. Your body continues to work during the night, on healing, rejuvenation, repair and maintenance. So, not having enough to sustain you through the night can lead to reduced blood sugar levels and the triggering of cortisol, which can then wake you up.
- Inflammation, which can be due to things like eating foods that you’re sensitive to or carrying too much weight, especially belly fat. These activate the immune system, which means extra energy usage during the night and a less than restful sleep.
- Digestive issues, such as acid reflux or IBS or even imbalances in your gut microbiome, such as the growth of parasites or yeast overgrowth. This can cause inflammation plus, research has also found that your gut bacteria influence your circadian rhythm and sleep regulation. Imagine the party the bacteria could be having at night! Are they the good ones or the bad ones?
- A non-conducive sleep environment, such as a room that’s too warm, or a room that’s not completely dark. Temperature affects messages from the hypothalamus in the brain which is your body’s thermostat and light affects melatonin levels.
Besides the obvious, such as irritability, mood, and not being able to think straight from feeling tired the next day, poor sleep is also linked with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, depression, weight gain (or inability to lose weight), Alzheimer’s disease and more. And because of the changes in our hormones due to the menopause, the risk for these conditions increases for us at the age of 50.
That’s why addressing sleep issues is a key area to look at with clients. Because the lack of sleep or poor sleep quality is a symptom of what’s going on inside.
We know for sure that over the age of 40, our female hormones are changing. But what we may not think about, is that a change in one hormone will affect other hormones because our body is always looking to rebalance itself. And when we notice the symptoms, it’s invariably because the body hasn’t been able to rebalance adequately.
So, if you’re suffering with disrupted sleep, what’s out of balance and what needs to change?
The challenge is, our body is complex and its systems are inter-related. It’s usually not about changing just one thing, but the combination of different things that all add up to make the difference.
In clinic, lab testing can help to pinpoint the imbalances, which makes it easier to know what you need to rebalance to feel good once again.
Imagine having had a great night’s sleep and sleeping right through the night. How would that impact how you feel?
On the other hand, what could happen if you don’t address your sleep issues? How would that impact your health? And your family?
You are worth the detective work to figure out what’s behind your symptoms. And I’d love to help you.
So, experiment with the things you have the most power over (diet, stress, etc that I’ve mentioned above). Many clients have already started making some changes before coming to see me. What they then find is that the insights, support and accountability help them to really gain momentum that can make the key difference to feeling like themselves again.
If this is you, then click here, and book a time for us to talk. We’ll be able to work out if this is the good next step for you or not.
Until then. Happy Menopause Day!