Sleep. It’s a beautiful thing, until it’s not…Unfortunately many of us face issues with our hormones and sleep – and it’s not an easily resolved issue.
Almost nothing beats a full night of sleep, are we right? Or how about a Sunday afternoon nap when you don’t feel well?
Sleep has so many benefits for our bodies. It can help…
- Boost our immune system
- Balance estrogen and progesterone levels
- Prevent weight gain
- Improve and solidify memories
- Increase productivity and balance mood
- and the list goes on!
And yet, so many of us have trouble with sleep. We either can’t fall asleep, can’t stay asleep, or worse… both!
Picture this. It’s 3:00 am and once again you’re tossing and turning in your bed. You feel annoyed, exhausted, and all you want is to fall asleep, even for a few more hours, but you can’t. So maybe you sit up and watch some TV, maybe you lay there and think about work, maybe you just lay there and do nothing! Eventually, the alarm sounds, and you’ve barely slept at all. If you’ve experienced this, you are NOT alone.
Fact: Women are more likely to have sleep issues than men.
Did you know that women are much more likely to report sleep deprivation problems compared to men? Why is this? The simple answer, hormones! Imbalanced hormone levels in women, especially, can create a viscious cycle that disrupts our sleep. In turn, sleep deprivation can cause a disruption to our hormones including insulin, cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin. For instance, sleep deprivation can lead to increased cortisol levels, which in turn increases insulin resistance, leading to a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Sleep deprivation can also lead to decreased leptin levels, which regulate hunger, and increased ghrelin levels, which stimulate hunger, leading to overeating and weight gain.
So how are hormones and sleep connected? And what hormones are involved in sleep? Let’s find out.
Hormones that play a role in our sleep
The first hormone that we need to talk about is Melatonin. This hormone is found equally in both women and men. This is the hormone that everyone thinks of when they think about sleep. Likely, if you tell anyone you’re having trouble sleeping they would reply “Have you taken melatonin?” For some people, melatonin works wonders. Others aren’t so lucky.
Melatonin is an amazing hormone in your body that is connected to the time of day. When it’s light outside, melatonin levels are decreased. As it becomes darker, more and more melatonin begins to be released in the brain telling your body it will soon be time to sleep. Then throughout the night, melatonin levels peak and then begin to dip as it becomes morning, helping you to wake up.
Melatonin is commonly used as a supplement to help people sleep. However, melatonin as a hormone simply “puts your body into a state of quiet wakefulness that helps promote sleep,” states sleep expert Dr. Louis Buenaver.
If you have tried melatonin and it isn’t working for you, don’t worry, just keep reading! If it is working for you, keep reading anyway! Supplementation can be a very good thing, but be advised – many products, including melatonin supplements, are not regulated and can be harmful.
Cortisol is considered the “stress hormone” and plays a very important role in waking you up in the morning. There are a lot of different functions that cortisol performs, but for right now we are just going to focus on its role as it relates to sleep.
When it comes time to hit the sack, cortisol levels in your body dip. Then, they slowly increase throughout the night helping to wake you up in the morning. You can sort of think of cortisol as having an inverse relationship with melatonin as it pertains to sleep.
As melatonin levels decrease, cortisol levels begin to increase which contributes to helping you wake up in the morning. As melatonin levels rise at night, cortisol levels (should) dip. However, it doesn’t always happen like this! Sometimes your cortisol levels don’t dip when they are supposed to. When cortisol levels are out of whack, it can cause sleep to suffer, creating a vicious cycle.
We know, it sounds like cortisol is terrible. You may even wonder why we produce it in the first place! Well, cortisol does have very practical functions in the body which is why we produce it naturally. In fact, we need cortisol for survival! It helps to regulate blood pressure, manage how the body uses macronutrients, boost energy, and more. It also is a very important hormone in our fight or flight response. However, it can become a “bad thing” when we have too much cortisol in our body (i.e. chronic stress), and it can have a direct effect on our sleep.
Too much cortisol raises heart rate and body temperature which can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep, creating a vicious cycle of poor sleep, and imbalanced hormones.
Since all hormones are connected, this lack of sleep can in turn cause your other hormones to become imbalanced!
#3 Female Sex hormones: Progesterone and Estrogen
Hormones such as progesterone and estrogen become imbalanced when we are constantly producing cortisol, contributing to sleep issues, raising cortisol levels even higher.
Progesterone is a “calming” hormone that helps promote deeper sleep, calm moods, and more. However, when we are over-producing cortisol, our bodies steal progesterone to make more cortisol to keep up with the demand, and to protect us. Unfortunately, when progesterone is drained, it creates an imbalance between progesterone and estrogen (known as estrogen dominance). And since estrogen is stimulatory in nature, when it is dominant, it creates even deeper issues with your sleep quality.
This loop is absolutely brutal!
Sleep Issues and Menopause
If you find yourself caught in this cycle, you may notice that you are less productive throughout the day at work. Or maybe you find that you are lacking motivation to do certain things that you used to be able to do, such as go for a walk or complete a project at home. This can have a very harmful effect on daily life (as your waistline) which you may be experiencing firsthand!
Not surprisingly, sleep problems and hormonal imbalances are especially common among women going through menopause.
Up to 61% of women report sleep disturbances during menopause. Because of estrogen decline, the body experiences hot flashes and sweating, which is the most common reason why women going through menopause have trouble sleeping or why they suddenly wake up in the middle of the night.
Progesterone and melatonin levels also decrease with age, which is another reason many women can experience trouble sleeping!
This all sounds like doom and gloom for women going through this life stage or experiencing these hormonal imbalances. But there are practical things that can be done to help you fall asleep fast, stay asleep throughout the night, and wake up energized!
5 ways to improve your sleep naturally!
Now, we’re sure that if you are struggling with sleep, you have already done a fair amount of research on fixing this incredibly frustrating issue. You probably already know that there are some more basic things that you can do such as:
- Implementing a whole foods diet focused on quality protein, fats, and fiber
- Cutting out sugar and processed foods
- Getting regular exercise
- Being socially active, and intellectually engaged
These things can be extremely helpful for sleep and if you have not tried implementing these into your life to help improve sleep quality, you should try them! However, many of you already practice these things every day and still struggle with sleep.
It isn’t your fault, it’s your hormones, and there are things that can be done naturally to help!
#1 Stress Management
A super important strategy for improving sleep is stress management. We all know by now that cortisol levels rise with stress. If you are constantly stressed, getting sound sleep can be very difficult! Here are a few tips to help manage stress:
- Try journaling before you go to sleep! Write down the things you need to do the next day. Write down things that are on your mind and things you are stressed about. Then, leave those things in the journal and go to sleep. For many people, this strategy has helped them to clear their mind and ease their stress about the things they must deal with the next day, or in the coming week.
- Another thing that can help to lower cortisol levels is meditation. You may think that meditation sounds silly, but research shows, it can greatly help lower stress and improve your quality of sleep. Having quiet time to yourself to simply focus on your breathing can have such an immensely positive impact on your life. Even if you only do it for 5-10 minutes a day, you will most likely notice a huge difference!
Putting away electronics for a certain time before bed can also be an effective method to getting quality sleep. As we discussed earlier, melatonin levels in the body respond to light. When you stay up too late on your phone or tablet, your melatonin levels don’t rise because you are constantly exposed to light. Try putting your phone away at night at least an hour before you go to bed. You may find that this helps you to fall asleep much faster.
Avoiding light an hour before bed, will help to naturally balance your melatonin levels, as opposed to Melatonin supplements, which are often unregulated and can potentially be dangerous. Another trick to block out light during sleep is to use an eye pillow!
A word on melatonin supplementation…
Melatonin is typically safe for short-term use and unlike with many sleep medications, with melatonin you are unlikely to become dependent. However, as with any medication there can be risks.
The most common melatonin side effects include:
Other, less common melatonin side effects might include short-lasting feelings of depression, mild tremor, mild anxiety, abdominal cramps, irritability, reduced alertness, confusion or disorientation, and abnormally low blood pressure (hypotension).
Aside from putting your phone away earlier, you can also leave your blinds before bed. That way, when you wake up in the morning and the sun peeks in your room, it will help your body naturally lower melatonin levels and help you feel energized for the day!
#3 Limit Caffeine
Something else that can affect your sleep is your caffeine intake. Often, a simple cup of coffee past 2:00 pm can prevent you from falling asleep! In fact, six hours after caffeine is consumed, half of it is still in your body. Studies show that it can take up to 10 hours to completely get rid of the caffeine in your bloodstream. With that being said, different people have different reactions to caffeine, and this may not be true for everyone. But, if you find that you are struggling to fall asleep at night, caffeine could be the culprit!
#4 Invest in your Sleep!
Two other simple practical things that you can do to help get good sleep are to drown out noise with a noise machine and to invest in a comfortable bed, pillows, bedding, etc. Creating a comfortable space is one of the best investments you can make and worth the extra expense.
#5 Get help!
If you’ve tried all these things and STILL struggle to get a good night’s sleep, we can help! At BeBalanced, we arm our clients with simple lifestyle changes, natural supplementation, and customized support to help balance hormones naturally. When hormones are in balance, not only will your sleep improve, but so will your mood, energy levels, metabolism function and more!
Be well! BeBalanced.