Sleep and Hormonal Balance


Many perimenopausal and menopausal women struggle with sleep issues. This can include the inability to fall asleep, stay asleep or a combination of both. 

Perimenopause, which is the period that can start 7-10 years before actual menopause, is a time of transition where women’s’ sleeping patterns and sleeping requirements can change.

During the perimenopausal phase of a woman’s life estrogen levels begin to decline and several mental and physical changes start to happen. Many women find that they have heightened anxiety levels, they may feel more stressed, and they can experience more mood swings as well as memory issues.

This change in hormones can be the beginning of their sleep problems. Estrogen has a regulating effect on our body temperature so a drop in estrogen causes hot flashes and sweats. It also plays a role in the metabolism and production of serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine which are important for good quality sleep and for mood regulation.

Many women would not have sleep disturbances if it weren’t for night sweats and hot flashes. For others, anxiety prevents them from falling asleep and from getting back to sleep if they do wake in the night.

Despite hormonal fluctuations, sleep disorders tend to become more prevalent as we age. Medical conditions and certain medications can also cause sleep disruptions.

Eating too many refined foods or foods that have a low nutrient value can cause blood sugar fluctuations during the night which can also disrupt sleep.

Progesterone is another hormone that is important for sleep. Progesterone has a sedative effect, and it also stimulates the production of GABA, which is an amino acid and neurotransmitter that calms the nervous system.

Melatonin is also an important player in our circadian rhythm or sleep / wake cycle. Melatonin helps us to get to sleep and is necessary for good quality sleep. Melatonin naturally declines as we age, but not necessarily more in menopausal women than anyone else.

Blue light exposure at night disrupts melatonin production by suppressing its release. The blue light tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime and makes us feel alert instead of tired.

Anxiety and depression can also be linked to sleep disorders. This can become a vicious cycle because a lack of sleep can also lead to irritability, anxiety, and depression. Ideally both should be addressed to bring the body back into balance so that it can sleep more restfully.

Listen to my interview with Brad Kirsten from Radio Cape Pulpit on 9 March 2023 to learn more. Listen to my next interview on Thursday at 7.45am