Hormones and Sleep Problems: 10 Things Every Woman Should Know
As women, we’re somewhat used to the way our hormones work. We learned to expect that PMS outburst; we learn to deal with the fluctuating emotions we experience during pregnancy; we attempt to tackle menopause as best we can.
However, how much do we know about the link between our hormones and sleep problems – could hormones be keeping us up at night or messing with the quality of our sleep?
Let’s find out.
The hormones that can cause sleep problems
There are 50 hormones being produced by our bodies at different times of day and life, and all of them play an important role. However, we will only look at the six most important ones that can affect the way we sleep.
Estrogen plays a key role in our menstrual cycle, as we all know, but it has other important functions as well. It helps the body utilize serotonin, also known as the happy hormone, and it impacts the quality of our bones and our skin.
As we get older, our levels of estrogen fluctuate and start to plummet as we approach menopause. This can cause irregular periods, hot flashes, and those pesky mood swings.
All of which can keep us up at night.
Progesterone is known as the “other female sex hormone.” Its main role is in promoting gestation, as the name itself suggests. It also keeps our brains healthy and is a natural anti-anxiety hormone. For our purposes today, we need to know that it can also help us fall asleep and sleep better.
When our bodies don’t produce enough progesterone (whether it’s because we are in menopause or have just hit that part of our cycle where it begins to drop), it can keep us awake.
While we naturally associate it with men, women also produce testosterone. It plays an important role in our reproductive health, but it’s also responsible for muscle growth and keeping our bones healthy.
In women, testosterone levels are highest during REM sleep. If we don’t get enough REM sleep, we won’t be producing enough of the hormone to help us sleep, and so we enter a vicious cycle of sleep deprivation.
Insulin is very important for keeping our blood sugar levels where they should be, by telling the body what to do with the glucose we get from the food we eat.
When our blood sugar levels are elevated constantly and regularly, our body can become more sensitive to the insulin it produces naturally, meaning we need more and more of the hormone to achieve the same effect. This can then lead to diabetes.
When it comes to insulin and sleep, the connection is quite straightforward. When we don’t sleep enough, our blood sugar levels are raised and we tend to eat more unhealthy foods (high in both sugar and calories). This can then trigger the additional production of insulin, which further triggers more sleep problems as our insulin levels fluctuate while we sleep.
While it is known as the stress hormone, cortisol actually plays a very important role in our sleep. It helps regulate our metabolism (hence the weight gain when we are stressed), and it raises our blood sugar and blood pressure levels in preparation for physical activity.
The levels of cortisol spike in the morning in order to get us to wake up, and slowly decline during the day to calm us down for bedtime.
Melatonin is the actual “sleep hormone,” produced by our pineal glands and operating with cortisol to control our circadian rhythm. As the sun starts to go down (yes, indeed, as it relies on the lessening of sources of natural light to start spiking – this is why looking at your phone before bed is bad for you), melatonin is released and cortisol levels drop. This is what puts us to sleep.
When we are stressed out or anxious before bed, cortisol will enter the playing field and keep us awake, as the melatonin can’t step in to lull us to sleep.
How can you impact your hormones to ensure better sleep?
Now that we know who the players in this game are, let’s examine what we can do to get enough sleep.
How much sleep you need
First, we need to recognize how much sleep we should be getting to feel our best. As women need more sleep than men, you may not want to just blindly pick a figure and assume that’s the number of hours of sleep you need.
Test out different variations over the course of a couple of months – one night of getting X amount of sleep won’t be enough to tell if you have hit the right spot. Once you know that, you can move onto the next steps.
Check your hormone levels
Depending on where you are in life (menstruating, pregnant, premenopausal, in menopause), your levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone will differ.
Your best option is to talk to your GP or gynecologist and do any tests that might be necessary to see if any of these hormones are out of balance.
If you are on the pill or if you have PCOS, issues with your thyroid, or any other condition that may be impacting your hormone production, you might want to consider some sort of treatment – whether it be via your diet, exercise, or certain medications.
Don’t take anything offhand, though, and always consult your doctor first.
So, we’ve talked about how your insulin levels impact your sleep. If you eat a lot of sugary snacks during the day, but especially before going to bed, it may affect your sleep, and not in a good way.
Even if you are one of those people who feels sugar lulls them into a nice coma, this is a trap. To remain healthy and sleep well, you need to keep your insulin levels balanced and leveled they can be, so try to stay away from the sugar before bed.
Naturally, stress is a huge culprit in the no-sleep game. The more we stress, the higher our cortisol levels, and that will simply prevent us from sleeping well.
There are hundreds of ways you can combat your own stress. Anything from yoga to meditation and journaling to listening to music can help. Make sure you figure out your own ways of lowering the daily stress, and stick to them.
Try to teach yourself how to keep your mind from going down any thought pattern that is not beneficial. If you catch yourself obsessing over something negative, or reliving anxious memories, or telling yourself off for not being good enough – learn how to prevent these thoughts and go down a different route.
A positive (or at least a less negative) attitude can do wonders for your cortisol levels, which will, in turn, boost your sleep. And ultimately, this will make you a more positive person.
The connection between hormones and sleep problems is evident. Now all you have to do is pinpoint the cause of your own restless nights – and make it a point to tackle it.