Bad sleeping. I know everything about it. During the time of my burnout, I slept dramatically badly. I tried everything, but nothing helped. Until I found out that sleeping had everything to do with my hormones. They turned out to be upset because on the one hand I was in the transition and on the other hand I had a burnout. It wasn’t until I learned how to balance my hormones again that I slept well again. Mostly
Research shows that approximately 2 million people in the Netherlands use sleeping or tranquilizer tablets, 2/3 of which are women. No wonder, our hormones are often quite up and down. Still, sleep isn’t something that happens to you. On the contrary, sleep is something that you have a lot of influence on.
Many people mistakenly believe that they have no influence on their sleep because they unwittingly lie awake for hours. However, you can do a lot about this yourself.
Why is good sleep important?
We all feel that good sleep is important. Sufficiently long and especially deep sleep is important for all kinds of essential processes in your body that you need to stay healthy. Good sleep is necessary for the proper functioning of your immune system, your immune system, your hormonal system, your nervous system, your stress load, and last but not least the proper functioning of your brain. Melatonin is the hormone that ensures falling asleep, staying asleep and the depth of sleep.
Melatonin is the sleep hormone that is produced when it gets dark. It is a powerful antioxidant that scavenges free radicals and is even able to slow the cell division of cancer cells.
Another important hormone, growth hormone, only works in the dark when you sleep. This growth hormone is the ‘repairer’ of all your body cells. It ensures the construction of your muscle cells, renewal and growth of tissues, a good distribution of fat and stimulates the production of new cells. Production of growth hormone is essential for your health. If you don’t sleep well, you’re not making enough of it.
Bad sleeping; the hormonal causes in women
“It must be my hormones”, you hear many women sigh when they complain about poor sleep and being tired. Indeed, our hormones and our sleep behavior have a lot to do with each other. Because our hormones are quite complex, we women are extra vulnerable to sleeping problems. There can be various causes for a lack of melatonin and therefore poor sleep. Let’s take a closer look at a few:
1. The Monthly Dance of Estrogen and Progesterone
Our key hormones, estrogen and progesterone, fluctuate not only during menopause but also during our menstrual cycles. Estrogen increases the amount of dream sleep and progesterone ensures deep recovery sleep and makes you sleepy. You need them both in the right proportion. Just before your period, progesterone drops, which can mean that you fall asleep worse or sleep more restlessly.
2. Less Progesterone in Menopause
From the age of 35, estrogen and progesterone drop. Estrogen drops to about 40 to 60 percent. Progesterone can drop to as little as 5 percent. Let progesterone be the hormone that gives relaxation and promotes sleep. This is probably partly due to the fact that many women 65+ and women who are overweight do not sleep well. In both cases there is usually too little progesterone compared to estrogen. We call this estrogen dominance.
3. Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
About 80% of women between the ages of 45 and 60 have a period in which they suffer from hot flashes and night sweats to a greater or lesser extent at night. This is obviously not conducive to healthy sleep. We still don’t know what causes this, but it seems that stress and the production of too much insulin (as a result of eating too much sweets and/or carbohydrates) play an important role in this.
4. Fluctuating Blood Glucose Levels or Insulin Resistance
Waking up in the middle of the night and unable to fall back asleep can signal fluctuating blood glucose levels or insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the result of fluctuating blood glucose levels over a long period of time.
By constantly eating too much sweets and carbohydrates, your blood glucose level will fluctuate. This means high peaks and deep valleys. When your blood glucose falls too low in the middle of the night, it means that your body does not have enough energy to perform basic functions such as heart rate and breathing. Cortisol then takes over, because cortisol also provides energy, which wakes you up.
4. With too much stress hormone cortisol, it is bad sleep
When stressed, the hormone cortisol is produced to give you extra energy. Your body assumes that when you are under stress you need more energy to maximize your chance of survival. To fall asleep quickly, however, it is necessary that cortisol is low because cortisol blocks the production of the sleep hormone melatonin.
There are very few women who can honestly say that they have little stress. Our care hormones estrogen, progesterone and oxytocin often ensure that we take on too many care tasks (read: stress). Saying “no” without feeling guilty and taking better care of ourselves sometimes takes years of training.
All forms of stress cause the production of cortisol, which blocks the production of melatonin
5. Emotions provide chemicals in your body
For many women, menopause is a time to take stock of their lives. It can be a period in which ‘thanks to’ our hormones many emotions can be released, such as worry, sadness, fear, but also anger and frustration. These kinds of emotions are seen by our body as stress, which causes our body to produce extra cortisol and other stress hormones. These hormones hinder good sleep and if not processed properly they can even lead to insomnia for years.
Without being aware of it, women can struggle for years with hidden emotions such as anger, disappointment and frustration that hinder good sleep.
6. Undetected Thyroid Hormone Problems
The precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin is the hormone serotonin. For a high level of serotonin, we need a properly functioning thyroid gland. However, a quarter of women 40+ will eventually suffer from a slow thyroid gland or symptoms that resemble this. This can also be a cause of sleeping problems. This is often accompanied by depressive symptoms.
Finally, many women with children have used themselves (often for years) to remain vigilant during sleep. This can become a pattern that you can linger in even when it is no longer needed and you don’t want it anymore. Being vigilant has then, as it were, chased away deep sleep.
Sleep is a do-thing
It seems like sleep is something that happens to you. Yet this is not so. You can actually do a lot about it yourself. Every woman is different, but our hormones all work in the same way. The tips below are aimed at balancing your hormones better so that you will sleep better. Try them out, preferably as much as possible. Your body will take care of you until you are 40. After 40 you have to take care of your body!
- Provide healthy food that balances your hormones so that you will sleep better. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach.
- Drink plenty of water. We consist of 75 percent water and water is essential for good health. If you’re thirsty, you’re already too late. Drink about two liters of water throughout the day. And water is water, no juices, coffee, tea or other drinks. Herbal tea is the only thing that comes close.
- Make sure you don’t eat anything four hours before you go to sleep, and certainly no sugars or carbohydrates. Eating sugars or carbohydrates boosts your blood sugar level. This starts insulin production, because insulin is needed to bring the blood sugar level back down. High insulin levels hinder melatonin production, the hormone we need to fall asleep. If you still want to eat something, eat some healthy fats or proteins, for example unroasted nuts, some olives, a boiled egg or a piece of (goat) cheese.
- In the evening, limit the consumption of coffee, black tea, green tea, chocolate and alcohol. They may be called stimulants, unfortunately they often guarantee insomnia. Coffee, black tea and green tea contain caffeine that will keep you awake. Chocolate and alcohol contain sugars that do the same.
- Make sure you see as much daylight as possible during the day. Daylight promotes the production of serotonin, the precursor of the sleep hormone melatonin. Do you feel a bit gloomy or do you suffer from mood swings? Then this is an important tip for you.
- Get plenty of exercise during the day, preferably outdoors. This also produces serotonin. Park your car a few blocks away and walk to the office or home. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. You probably know all kinds of tricks to get yourself moving more. Use them. As much as possible!
- Introduce rhythm into your sleep pattern. We women are sensitive to rhythms in nature, although we are sometimes far from that. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time as much as possible. This also keeps your hormones in balance. Do not deviate too much from your normal sleeping pattern on the weekend.
- Make sure to darken the last hour before going to bed. Lots of light, especially the blue light from TV, computer and LED lights tells your body that it’s still plenty of day. This prevents your melatonin production from starting. Provide subdued light from a light bulb and prepare your body for -sleeping-.
- Make sure you have enough relaxation during the day. Too little relaxation during the day means that too much of the stress hormone cortisol remains in your body. This hinders the production of growth hormone. That’s why you get old quickly from too much stress! Be smarter than stress and ensure sufficient relaxation eg through breathing exercises or a short walk outside. It only needs to be a few minutes, but organize them.
- Put your worries, not your cell phone, on your nightstand. Poor sleep is exacerbated by emotions, worries and all kinds of unresolved issues in your life. You often take them to bed. I’ve taught myself to write down everything I worry about in a notepad, put it on my nightstand, and ask the universe to work with me to resolve it. If all goes well, a wise insight often spontaneously comes to me the next morning that helps me deal with such an issue. Sleeping next to your cell phone is like putting your head in a microwave. The radiation from your mobile is harmful to your brain, so buy a simple alarm clock and make sure that your mobile is not in your bedroom.
Sleeping pills are not a solution. They are highly addictive and have really nasty side effects. You do not get the healing effect of sleep with sleeping pills. In fact, with sleeping pills you just lie unconscious. This ensures that you are not very conscious and really ‘awake’ during the day. Don’t do that to yourself. Life is too beautiful to spend half asleep.