How to Sleep Better When Your Hormones Won't Let You
Can't fall asleep, or when you do, you can't stay asleep? It's one of the most common complaints of women over the age of 40, and you can blame it on your hormones.
Here's one of the lesser-known facts about perimenopause and early menopause - you can pretty much say goodbye to a good night's sleep. The hot flashes, weight gain, and mood swings get lots of attention, but for more than 60% of us, it's the inability to get a good night's sleep that's the last straw.
Sleep problems in women are worst between the ages of 40-55, and usually related to menopause. They can range from having trouble falling asleep, to waking up earlier than you'd like to, or even waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep at all.
The Sleep-Hormone Connection
The biggest contributor to women's sleep problems is hormonal changes, especially the sudden drop in estrogen, which triggers hot flashes. When hot flashes occur at night, you may wake up drenched in sweat and unable to get back to sleep. Progesterone, a hormone that plays a role in sleep, also declines in perimenopause. As we age, our body also produces less melatonin, the hormone that regulates our sleep and wake cycles.
Another big reason many of us have trouble falling and staying asleep is stress. It's probably not that menopause itself causes stress, but instead the baggage that comes with it, especially that feeling like you're suddenly living in someone else's body, that causes the stress. Stress makes it difficult to get a good night's sleep, leaving us feeling exhausted, unproductive, and more stressed. Chronic stress can also wreak havoc with your cortisol levels (the "fight or flight" hormone), keeping levels too high at night, which makes it even harder to fall asleep. It's a vicious cycle.
For me, some days I'm so tired I can't wait to get into my bed, but as soon as I'm in bed, I'm completely wide awake, and stressing about how I can't fall asleep.
Health professionals recommend getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night, but not just so you can feel rested and refreshed the next day. Research studies show that those who don't get enough sleep for long periods of time, tend to put on weight more easily, and are at increased risk for depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
How to Balance Your Hormones and Get Some Sleep
If you're in the "I can't get a good night's sleep no matter what I do" club, definitely try to stick to as consistent of a sleep-wake schedule as you can, and make sure the temperature in your bedroom is comfortable for sleep (usually around 65 degrees). In addition:
- Avoid caffeine-containing foods like coffee, black tea, and chocolate at least 3-4 hours before sleep. Also, limit alcohol - it can make you drowsy, but also tends to cause you to have a more restless sleep.
- Eat a lighter dinner that's high in healthy carbs from foods like sweet potatoes, vegetables, whole grains, along with some lean protein. You might also try the glass of warm milk trick - it's a source of tryptophan, which increases serotonin (the feel-good hormone) levels in the brain. Whatever you do, avoid high-fat and high protein late-night meals.
- Try a low dose of melatonin. Most people only need about .5- 1 milligram, and more melatonin is not better. In addition, melatonin should only be taken for a short term.
- Turn off your computer, iPad, phone, TV, and any other source of "blue light" - it reduces melatonin production.
- Try taking adaptogenic herbs which can help to balance your cortisol levels, and allow your body adapt to various types of stress. Good choices include Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, and Rhodiola - I'm partial to Gaia Herbs, which are organically grown.
- I also like magnesium (about 300 milligrams of a glycinate blend which is better absorbed) to relax your muscles and L-Theanine to quiet your mind.
- Get good, regular exercise. Although a recent study found that doing yoga or aerobic exercise didn't have a direct impact on quality of sleep during peri/menopause, other research studies have found that regular exercise results in fewer hot flashes and milder menopause symptoms, and that will increase your odds of sleeping through the night.
- Finally, if your lack of sleep is having a severe effect on your quality of life, talk to your doctor to see if you're a candidate for medication like short-term hormone replacement therapy, or antidepressant medication which have been shown to alleviate some symptoms of menopause.
If you have any tips to get a better night's sleep, please share them in the comments, and as always, eat well!
Hi I'm 60 years old I had breast cancer in 2020 a hormonal cancer I too having difficulty in sleeping and staying asleep. Would ashwagandha ok to take if you have hormonal problems? I've tried melatonin up to 2mg and 500mg of magnesium citrate it was giving me lots of side effects. Maybe I need to lower the dose?
Hi Jardin, I think Ashwagahdha would be OK but with your history I do recommend checking with your doctor. For melatonin, I think a lower dose (0.5-1mg) works better than a high dose for sleep. Many people find they wake up with vivid dreams at higher doses. And for Magnesium, 500 mg can cause some diarrhea. It can have a laxative effect, so start with 200 mg and work your way up until you find the dose that works for you - usually around 300 mg works. Hope that helps!
Hi there, could you please explain the science behind high good carbs before bed and not high fat and protein? I am diabetic so high carbohydrates good or bad are not an option for me. I mostly eat good fats and protein as these don't effect my blood sugars as much but I'd like to know how they affect hormones and how carbs help?
Hi Holly! Thanks for reading, and for your question. I should have clarified that statement in the article. I meant higher in healthy carbs vs refined carbs. (I'm going to edit it!)
With diabetes, you're probably best to stick to the kind of diet you're currently eating, especially if that's working for you. Healthy fats and proteins are completely fine to eat (and vegetables). The problem with eating them too close to bedtime is that they take longer to digest, and often tend to keep you up with a full stomach. As long as you're giving yourself a few hours (at least 3) between dinner and bedtime, you should be just fine. If you do need a snack before bed to keep your blood sugar stable through the night, a little bit of high fiber carb with some healthy fat or protein is a good choice - like a slice of whole wheat bread and peanut butter or a small serving of Greek yogurt. Hope that helps!
I have been having sleep issues for a couple of months. I'm 60 and wondering if this is post menopausal. Melatonin is not working. My doctor has put me on 1/2 dormicum. It works well but I do not want to become reliant on this drug. I want to enjoy natural sleep. Magnesium does energize me so I will try the ashwagandha. I've also tried the diffuser, warn showers etc. Quite a useful article. Thank you for the hope.
Thanks for reading Naila! I know how frustrating sleep problems can be. Yes, try ashwagandha and also holy basil (tulsi) tea after dinner might help.
Thanks for the article, really great information.! I am 50 years old and I can’t sleep longer than 4 hours. Everyone have really shine light on a lot of great things to try. I appreciate everyone for their Greta ideals and useful remedies.
Thanks so much for reading! I hope you'll find some of the tips helpful 🙂
Great post, so helpful to many I'm sure! We recently underwent a whole change to our bedtime routine because both my husband and I were having trouble sleeping at night, which carried over into the next day and became a hard cycle to get out. We did the shutting off of the phone, have used melatonin before and started a meditation app about an hour before going to bed which has been a huge help at quieting dow the mind.
Thanks for chiming in Brynn! It's interesting to see just how many people struggle with the sleep thing. I love those meditation apps too.
Wonderful article. I feel like sleep should always be a part of the conversation when we're talking about health and wellness. I have used a diffuser with essential oils like lavender and sandalwood in the past to help with insomnia. I also find that 10 minutes of meditation before bed can be really helpful.
Great ideas Gretchen! I've used those meditation apps in the past and I find them helpful. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment 🙂
Love these tips! I'm a big fan of magnesium 🙂
I need to try magnesium! A few people have suggested it 🙂
So many great tips Anne! I go through phases with my sleep, but, overall it's pretty good. In addition to all your tips, I find a hot bubble bath right before bed can do wonders. Also, reading in bed makes me drowsy, no alcohol (sad but true), and exercise in the late afternoon helps me. I know a lot of people swear by magnesium before bed, but I have to take it in the morning, because it energizes me at night. Oh, and regular meditation has helped me be better about "switching off"those thoughts that keep me awake at night 🙂
Thanks for sharing your tips EA! Switching off the thoughts and worries is definitely key 🙂
So much great info! Thanks for sharing!
You're very welcome! Thanks for visiting Sarah!
I was just listening to a story on NPR on quality sleep and challenges to getting enough. Thanks for sharing this angle on sleep challenges and tips to balance those hormonal shifts for better sleep.
You're so very welcome Lauren! It seems like too many of us are in the same sleepless boat 🙂
We use melatonin in our house along with lavender. I've heard good things about Ashwagandha. And couldn't agree more with the exercise!
Thanks for chiming in Jillian! I forgot to mention lavender - I've used it and find it helpful too!
I seem to go through phases of being totally fine, and then a period of time where it will be hard to stay asleep. After reading this I am wondering if it is hormonal. Sheesh. To think I may have this for the next 13+ years! Thank you for these tips. Good reminder about blue light. That is a hard one.
Ha! Sorry to say, but it can last a good 10 years! The blue light is HARD but after Blog Brulee I turned off my phone notifications and vowed to not look at my phone, ipad or computer from 10pm until I'm up and at my desk the next am and it's been working!
This is great info. I recently started having trouble sleeping at 46 and didn't realize it was so common. I actually take magnesium at night and it totally helps!
Thanks for that tip Lauren - I have to try magnesium! I've heard it's helpful.
Hi I’m 42 yrs old and am having difficulty sleeping and staying asleep. I believe this may be related to premenopause. Does MGnesium help you stay asleep?
Perimenopause can definitely cause disrupted sleep. I can't say if magnesium will help you stay asleep, but many people do find it helpful to relax you so you fall asleep faster.