You may think your trouble sleeping is due to your lifestyle choices and being stressed out for being stretched in a bunch of different directions with your career, family, friends, and finances. And while those might be a factor, there’s a sneaky culprit that could be adding to your exhaustion…peri-menopause.
Occurring anywhere from your 30’s to 40’s, no two women are exactly identical in what they will experience on their path to transitioning to menopause. You may resemble some or nothing of the genetic heritage of the women before you.
And while it’s an inevitable and a normal part of aging gracefully, the effects of menopause and sleep could be one of the biggest disruptors to your quality of life.
What’s Really Happening to Your Hormones?
The ovaries produce and secrete two essential hormones; estrogen and progesterone. As they naturally begin to power down, one may increase while the other decreases and vice versa.
On average, perimenopause lasts approximately 4 years so these intermittent and inconsistent fluctuations can be long-lasting and they also have specific effects on your physiological ability to sleep.
Both of these hormones communicate with the hypothalamus, the place in the brain that is responsible for regulating one’s circadian rhythm. One sleep cycle has four very specific steps that are incurred:
- Stage 1 - begin to fall asleep and brain waves slow
- Stage 2 - light sleep occurs and body temperature drops
- Stage 3 - deep sleep, repair to tissues, muscles and bone growth occur
- Stage 4 - REM (rapid eye movement) vivid dreaming and brain stimulation happen
Since these have a specific execution, you can’t get to the restorative REM stage without going through proper dozing-off and deep sleep first.
One of progesterone’s main functions is to manage estrogen and prevent hyper-stimulation. So when it’s not able to run a proper defensive strategy, then estrogen is allowed to run amuck spiking your body temperature and fueling neurons into an energetic frenzy at night when you should be winding down.
Additionally, by not reaching or maintaining a lower temperature then not only are certain sleep stages not obtainable, but you’ll also be jolted out of deep sleep as well.
What’s Your Sleep Difficulty?
Dyssomnia refers to a group of sleep disorders that involve an inability to get to the subsequent stages of the sleep cycle. They are as follows:
While insomnia is typically portrayed as someone who is not able to sleep at all, that’s not true. The signs of having this disturbance can be mild to severe. If you’ve regularly been wrestling with one or several of the following you may have perimenopausal insomnia:
- Falling and staying asleep
- Feel tired and sluggish during the day
- Unable to take a nap despite being tired
- Feeling intense concern for being able to get sufficient sleep
- Lack of concentration and irritability due to fatigue
Characterized by an abnormal stopping and starting of breathing while asleep, this is not common in women when estrogen and progesterone are at normal levels. It’s difficult to self-diagnose this condition as its occurrence needs to be observed by someone else but if you’re noticing some of these symptoms on a daily basis your condition may have changed:
- Dry mouth and throat
- Extreme daytime sleepiness (hypersomnia)
- Waking up with a headache
- Excessive difficulty concentrating
The Anxiety and Depression Snafu
It’s widely known that progesterone surges to new highs during pregnancy and when it plummets afterwards, women suffer from postpartem depression. Perimenopause is very similar but it may not be as obvious as the decline is more subtle and drawn out over a longer duration.
Besides fertility functions, progesterone positively stimulates various aspects of the central nervous system to support feelings of tranquility and helps to stabilize mood swings. This is done so by interacting with GABA receptors which bring neurons into equilibrium by regulating dopamine and serotonin.
It’s been proven that estrogen prevents GABA receptors from sending out a distress call for contentment thereby pushing your feelings to either end of the spectrum; fueling the nervousness of anxiety or the sadness of depression instead of being somewhere in the middle.
Around menopause, sitting with intense woes and worries can disrupt quality sleep resulting in even more irritability throughout the day.
Other Contributing Factors
Incontinence - If you’re finding that you’re getting up to use the bathroom more often, it’s not your imagination. Less estrogen causes a loss elasticity in the bladder and vagina so you may have a more frequent urge even though there’s not a lot to purge.
Joint and Muscle Pain - part of estrogen’s responsibility was to keep up the density of your bones so while it wanes you may have body and joint aches that then effect the surrounding muscles. This inhibits your ability to get comfortable and fully relax or they’re waking you up at night.
Cold Flashes - while not as common as hot flashes, you might feel suddenly cold and this can be brief enough to knock you out of sleeping as well. Those who experience this describe it as not the same as a cold or flu chill but more as a shiver.
If you’re looking to alleviate your sleep difficulty and go about your day with more alertness there are a wide variety of holistic sleep aides that you may want to try as they are readily available in many different forms to suit your preference:
- Valerian Root