If everyday hustle keeps you tense and makes your sleep restless, the holiday season is the perfect time to get back some sleep. For perimenopausal and menopausal women, good quality sleep is particularly important when it comes to optimizing hormones which helps to lose weight, have more energy, and feel more at ease and in control.

We already know that sleep is important for our overall health and everyday function, but for women transitioning into menopause, sleep is ever more important.

In reproductive years, sex hormones are mostly made by the ovaries. As women get older, the ovaries retire and they no longer make estrogen and progesterone. Instead, the adrenal glands take over and help to sustain these hormones so that estrogen-dependent organs and tissues such as the bone, heart, blood vessels, and brain can continue to function. In other words, the adrenals have more task to fulfill as women enter menopause.

Sleep deprivation exacerbates menopausal symptoms

When sleep deprivation or poor quality sleep persist, the adrenals are not getting the rest they need. The adrenals get signals that the brain wants them to work harder, to produce more stress hormone, cortisol. Normally, the adrenals produce all hormones in right proportions and keep our hormones balanced, but when the brain asks for disproportionately more cortisol, something else has the give. Progesterone gets incrementally underproduced, while estrogen(estrone) and androgens get erroneous overproduced, and this hormone imbalance adds further burden to pre-existing menopause-related hormone fluctuations.

In fact, lots of menopausal symptoms are caused by excessive cortisol. Therefore, not getting sleep is the culprit of many of those symptoms. You might be able to relate a few and if you work on getting more (7-8hrs) and better sleep this holiday, you’ll be surprised how easy your menopausal symptoms can be managed.

  • Hotflashes
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased level of LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Increased level of triglycerides (fat molecules in the blood)
  • Poor concentration
  • Brain fog
  • Fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Acne
  • Facial hair
  • Joint pain
  • Thinning of hair
  • Recurrent UTI
  • Recurrent yeast infection
  • Weight gain

Sleep deprivation on weight management

When cortisol is high as a result of hyperactive adrenals, inflammation also increases, which in turn encourages fat cells to expand, making it very hard to lose weight. This is why overweight and obesity plague people whose jobs require them to stay up at night. This biological underworking also applies to people who lead a high-stress lifestyle.

Cortisol aside, sex hormone imbalance also cause havoc on weight management. Sex hormones can affect metabolism, behaviour, and thinking, all together have an impact on weight. For instance, progesterone is a natural diuretic, meaning that without it, the body retains water and keep you feel bloated, heavy, and even sluggish. The lack of progesterone can make you feel nervous, anxious, and vulnerable – all the more reason to turn to food and alcohol for quick comfort. As well, the associated rise in androgen does not necessary give you more testosterone, which we know is associated with burning fat and muscle building. On the contrary, the rise in androgen is associated with low energy and lack of motivation, which also contributes to weight gain. Finally, the associated high estrone makes water cling to breast tissues and form cysts, backlogging the lymphatic system, rendering you feeling sore at the breast and sluggish overall. All the more reason to stay inactive and seek comfort from chocolate and wine.

Furthermore, dieting women or those who exercise regularly, the lack of sleep actually increases the release of ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry. In other words, if you are not sleeping well, limiting calories, and exercising, thinking that you are losing weight, sorry, but you’re not. Chances are that you get intense cravings at times that you end up overeating when you initially just want a couple bites – yikes! Further furthermore, the body releases leptin, the hormone that make you feel satiated, but only during sleep. If you are not sleeping, you are not getting leptin. Low leptin will leave you craving more and unsaturated. 

All in all, not getting enough sleep or not having good quality sleep go against getting rid of fat.

Plan for sleeping in on holidays 

I hope that after knowing all this, you are planning to snooze in during the holidays.

Here are a few sleep ideas for your holiday:

Do’s:

  • Plan on sleeping in if you have to stay up late the night before
  • Plan to have 30-minute nap in the afternoon if you are waking early for doorcrasher deals
  • Eat your turkey and have a bit of dessert. The amino acid tryptophan in the turkey combined with carbohydrates increases serotonin level in the blood, allowing you to have deep, restful sleep.
  • Connect with your family and friends. Bonding increases oxytocin release in your brain, which offsets cortisol.
  • Choose herbal tea over coffee. Coffee demands the adrenals to work harder, which makes your body less sensitive to cortisol. It’s the holidays, go for hot chocolate instead.

Don’ts:

  • Don’t plan too much on doing anything. Your adrenals need a break.
  • Don’t pull all nighters just to binge watch your favourite TV show.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. Ideally, less than 3 glasses of wine per week and less than 1 glass a day. Alcohol depresses 

Trouble sleeping?

The cause for difficulty sleeping is multifactorial. High cortisol is one of the reasons, and it is the-chicken-or-the-egg dilemma. Lack of sleep increases cortisol release, and high cortisol makes one tired but wired. In addition to good sleep hygiene, here are a couple recommendations safe and effective for perimenopausal and menopausal women:

  1. Melatonin. You might be surprised how effective it works. Take a sustained release form of melatonin before going to bed. If you had wine in the evening, taking melatonin just before bed works like a charm in keeping you sleep like a baby throughout the night. Now, if you have tried melatonin and it either gives you intense, unfavourable dreams or that it leaves you groggy in the morning, it’s a sign of adrenal hyperactivity. In that case, see #2 below.
  2. L-Theanine. This is an amino acid extracted from green tea eliminating the caffeine. How it improves sleep is still being discovered, but it may potentiate serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that regulates sleep. It works very well with people who feel tired but wired at bed time.

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