Sleep often becomes something of a holy grail once we enter perimenopause. And if we can’t find a way to navigate sleep issues it may travel with us through the menopause transition into post-menopause.
For some women sleeplessness only becomes an issue once they’ve transitioned through menopause as sleep disorders increase with age. For others, things improve post-menopause. Whichever camp you’re in we know a disrupted sleep can be extraordinarily disabling and play havoc with your daily life.
A lack of sleep can contribute to:
- Lack of alertness
- Energy loss
- Brain fog
- Loss of libido
- High blood pressure
- Premature ageing of the skin
- Increased likelihood of car accidents
- Weight gain
When you look at the above list a lot of those symptoms make sense. Even the Energiser Bunny winds down and comes to a full stop when his batteries run out.
Sleep is when our human batteries recharge.
Sleep Loss & Weight Gain
What you may not realise is that poor sleep contributes to increased weight or more specifically an increase in belly fat. We know the fat that settles itself around the abdomen post-40 is very distressing to some of you. And you find it very difficult to shift. There can be a cascade of reasons behind it but sleep, or rather a lack of it can be a contributory factor.
The reduced sleep levels of the 21st Century are believed to contribute to the obesity epidemic which has doubled since the 1980s.
One research manuscript stated that: “Sleep is an important modulator of neuroendocrine function and glucose metabolism and sleep loss has been shown to result in metabolic and endocrine alterations, including decreased glucose tolerance, decreased insulin sensitivity, increased evening concentrations of cortisol, increased levels of ghrelin, decreased levels of leptin, and increased hunger and appetite.”
In layman’s terms, it’s saying that a lack of sleep and the associated disruption of blood sugar, the hunger and satiety hormones ghrelin and leptin and an increase in the stress hormone cortisol contributes to weight gain in a big way. Think about it for a second. Have you ever noticed you feel hungry more often and are less easily satisfied if you’re having issues sleeping?
The paper goes on to say “sleep loss could also affect energy balance by increasing sedentary behaviour and decreasing non-exercising energy expenditure”. It’s not well studied but it makes sense that fatigue makes us feel less prone to exercise and our resting metabolism would go down. Contrarily, some studies have shown the non-exercise energy used goes up – perhaps due to tossing and turning at night.
The Circadian Rhythm
Humans have 24-hour circadian rhythms that generally respond to light and dark. As the day moves into nighttime the hormone melatonin is released and lets the brain know it’s time to think about slumber. With the advent of electricity, our natural circadian rhythm has changed. And modern life has taken it a step further.
Many of us:
- eat at a later hour
- look at lit screens constantly
- are busy ‘doing’ from morning to night
- head to bed at a late hour
Add to that high stress or chronic low-grade stress and it creates a perfect storm for sleep disruption.
With that in mind is it surprising that weight gain can be due to physiological reasons such as sleeplessness rather than overeating? Until the root cause is taken care of the extra kilo’s won’t easily budge.
A Word About Melatonin, Tryptophan & Magnesium
As we discovered above melatonin is a hormone that our body produces when night falls – it’s crucial for sleep. It may be helpful to know research suggests dietary factors can make a difference to our melatonin production. Indeed, eating a diet high in foods rich in melatonin and/or the amino acid tryptophan which synthesises melatonin can be helpful.
Tryptophan produces vitamin B3 (niacin) and the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is sometimes called ‘the feel-good’ chemical as it’s believed to be an important sleep and mood regulator.
Another sleep enhancer is the mineral magnesium which is present in many foods. There are different forms available and magnesium acetyltaurate, magnesium citrate and magnesium glycinate are considered to be the most well absorbed by the human body.
6 Steps For More Energy & Less Weight Gain
- Be consistent with the times you get up in the morning and when you turn the lights out. Try and get in sync with your circadian rhythm as this is your natural sleep-wake cycle.
- Exercise early. In terms of sleep the earlier in the day you exercise the better. Active movement revs your metabolism, body temperature and stimulates cortisol. Yoga Nidra or gentle stretching would be ideal before bed as this study shows.
- Get out of your head and calm your racing mind by learning to meditate. University of Southern California research found improvements in sleep quality in people who meditated.
- Increase daytime bright light particularly in winter months and decrease nighttime blue light. Interesting studies showed that exposure to blue-enriched white light during the day improved positive mood, evening fatigue, concentration and daytime sleepiness. At night, turn off the screens on your devices as early as possible as the blue light they emit isn’t sleep or health-friendly.
- Eat melatonin/tryptophan/magnesium-rich foods. Examples below and click here for an extended list.
High Melatonin Foods
- Goji Berries
High Magnesium Foods
- Dark Chocolate
- Fatty fish
- Leafy greens
- Legumes – edamame, beans, lentils, chickpeas and peas
- Seeds – flax, pumpkin, chia
- Wholegrains – oats, buckwheat, quinoa, barley
High Tryptophan Foods
- Edamame beans
- Soy – tofu, soy milk, soy sauce
Bonus? Click here to download our FREE Sleep Hygiene Guide.
Hope that helps ladies!
If you have any questions don’t hesitate to email me here.