Energy Levels

You’re a lady in your mid-40s-50s and Can’t Sleep? Here’s The Truth About Why & How To Fix It

September 8, 2022

Hi, I’m Angela
I'm a functional medicine practitioner & hormone expert working primarily with women in their 40's and 50's to create lasting health.
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Are you one of the many women who find themselves chronically exhausted? Do you toss and turn at night, unable to get more than a few hours of sleep? If so, you’re not alone. Contrary to popular belief, sleep deprivation isn’t just a problem that affects new moms or people who are crunching down on a tough project. Millions of women suffer from insomnia and other sleep disorders every night. But what’s causing your lack of sleep, and more importantly, what can you do about it? Read on to find out.

Is this you?

It can be bothersome and impact your life if you have to deal with deteriorating sleep patterns. This might happen to you when you are in your forties or early fifties.

You’re starting to notice that your sleep isn’t that great. You might be having trouble getting to sleep or find yourself waking up multiple times in the night. It could also be that you wake up way too early and not be able to get back to sleep. You might notice this trend or a pattern that worsens at certain points in your cycle.  This may happen to you all the time. 

I work with women all the time who feel debilitated by this. Someone I just started working with, said she’s getting on an average of two and a half to four hours of sleep a night. This, expectedly makes her have difficulty coping and functioning. She can’t work well and had to ask her employer to take a few months off so she can figure out how to restore her sleep.

I know how this can be, it’s not that uncommon. Women I talk to are sleep deprived and there are many different reasons for it.

What a bother, right?

Let’s face it. Some of it can be self-induced and will all contribute to us not having a great sleep routine:

  • Staying up too late
  • Being on screens at night
  • Eating sugar before bed
  • Not having an established bedtime routine 

There are women suffering from sleep troubles who have a good bedtime routine. Yet, sleep deprivation still happens to them. Moreover, they can’t seem to figure out why. Some of them have tried several different supplements and medications. What tends to happen is, that they’ll help in the short term. These won’t help for the long term, sadly. 

These women will find that they need to increase the dose of the supplement or medication at some point. This usually means that they will experience a few side effects. However, eventually, they may not want to have to keep doing this.

The truth is, if you are using this method to help manage your sleep and get enough hours, you probably have a bigger problem. You need to find the root cause of why you aren’t getting enough sleep.

Shifting Hormones

The female hormones, or estrogen and progesterone change as you get older. This can lead to more light sleeping or sleeping late into your forties and early fifties. Needless to say, that’s not what we want because it means missed hours of shut-eye every day.

When these hormone levels are at a little bit higher amount and they’re well balanced, we will tend to have better quality sleep. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed after your night’s rest which means you can get ready for whatever comes next in life with renewed energy. 

Most people need to sleep for at least seven or eight hours every night. If you’re getting less than that, you’re chronically sleep deprived and it’s going to affect your work, your ability to communicate with other people, and your emotions. You probably don’t feel as good as you could on everyday tasks. This might be affecting your physical health and emotional health too.

A lasting solution

Now that we know these, we have a better understanding that we need to get you a solution: something that’s going to last. Supplements may help. You probably are trying every different thing on the shelf, but you don’t know anymore which one works and which one doesn’t. What I would suggest is that we look at the root cause of why you’re having this in the first place. 

Prevalently, because the female sex hormones, estrogen, and progesterone are lowering, It will cause a little bit lighter sleep.  Estrogen, in particular, helps you with getting deep sleep. Progesterone, on the other hand, will help you sustain sleep throughout the night. As you get closer to menopause, both of these hormones decline. This might make your sleep worse. Some people have more extreme changes.

If you feel like you are having some of these extremes where you’re consistently well under that seven to eight hours a night, something needs to happen. It’s not just related to your female sex hormones, because if it was every single woman that went through this transition in life, would be sleep deprived like you are.

Probing the contributing factors

Eating patterns 

There has to be something else going on. I have seen quite consistently when we start to probe and understand the history of each woman I work with, especially the ones that are chronically sleep deprived, that there tends to be a pattern. One of them tends to be that they aren’t having consistent meals throughout the day: they’re skipping meals.

They are not eating enough. Some women are skipping breakfast or lunch. They tend to have long periods during the day where they’re not actually eating at all. Then, they will feel hungry and they’ll get a lot of their calories in later in the day. Sometimes even right before bed.

Most of the time, the calories they take in are not of the best quality, in other words, they are empty carbohydrates. These are the type that converts quickly to sugar in the body. As we get older, we become more sensitive to this factor. 

Insulin Levels

Our blood sugar levels are more likely to change as our hormone levels lower. If we eat foods that have more carbohydrates and we eat them later in the day, especially closer to bed, we can start to affect our sleep. Having high blood sugar can make it hard to sleep. This is because when our blood sugar gets too high, it also causes our cortisol levels to go up. Ideally, what should happen in the later part of our day (around 3 PM-onwards), is our cortisol levels should be lower enough that we start to feel sleepy and want to go to bed.

Now, if we eat something right before bed, in particular with carbohydrates and sugar, it’ll reverse the curve and it’ll start to lift. As a result, we will become a little more alert, and awake, and it will impact our ability to get to sleep. 

For some others, they won’t necessarily notice this spike outwardly. It’s just happening internally in the body. As the spike happens, it will cause the blood sugars and cortisol to drop quickly. This is often how women wake up in the middle of the night or very early morning, not having an idea why they’re awake. There can be accompanying reports of temperature fluctuation or a flash that wakes them. But often, the reason for this has to do also with the big drop in blood sugars that can happen if blood sugars are out of balance.

The solution to this requires a customized treatment with tailored lab testing to understand the pattern of what’s happening with your blood sugars and your cortisol levels during the day. This is one way we can get to an individualized plan and help you develop a solution. You will need to plan your meals so that they help you control your blood sugar and cortisol levels. When it is time for bed, these two should be balanced, which will help you get more and better quality sleep.

Cortisol Elevations

Another reason I find that women are sleep-deprived has to do with elevated cortisol. This doesn’t just come from eating a sugary meal before bed but also, from being under chronic stress.

Many women are under chronic stress.

In a way, it is very cruel the way our bodies work. As we get into our forties and our female sex hormones are lowering, something that can help buffer high cortisol levels is progesterone, secondarily, estrogen. 

Progesterone declines more quickly than estrogen. We don’t have that buffer for cortisol as much as we may have had 10 or 20 years ago. Therefore, we are going to feel stressed all the more. Feeling stressed partnered with high levels of cortisol won’t allow us a relaxed state to sleep. If it does, say, we fell off to bed due to exhaustion, but because the cortisol is not balanced and too high still, then we wake up two or three hours later, not being able to get back to sleep anymore. This can be made worse when we are visited by thoughts on our mind, stressors we might be thinking about. 

It can sometimes be more physiological too. Cortisol is too high and out of balance, which is usually a result of what has happened throughout the day. 

If this is happening, lab testing is an initial course of action that can help. Moreover, we need to understand what kind of techniques can we use to help you buffer and manage this higher stress which lifts your cortisol and affects your sleep. 

Stress management techniques are different for everyone., Typically, though, going out for a walk, breathing exercises, going out in nature, and doing some yoga and meditation can help bring cortisol back down into balance. 

Trial and error strategies for better sleep

You will find some strategies work better than others for you. To figure it out, you may have to do a bit of trial and error. A little effort in putting up strategies for managing and lowering your cortisol can go a long way.

As our female hormones lower, in addition to imbalanced cortisol, we are going to feel that symptoms eventually cause a cycle of being disrupted.  When you get interrupted sleep, you don’t get a reset in the systems of the body at night. The inflammatory pathways in your immune system, in particular, don’t get enough time to reset. This can put you at higher risk for developing a chronic disease. There is research made that suggests chronic sleep deprivation can shorten your life on average. The many negative impacts it can have on so many different areas and systems in your body will take their toll. 

Testing, as the first step, will help us understand the status of your blood sugar balance and your cortisol levels relative to your female sex hormones. This, in turn, will aid us to develop an individualized plan to get the balance back resulting in better sleep.   

Unfortunately, it is not as simple of a task to just take supplements or sleep medications for you to manage and get by with your daily routine. Many lifestyle strategies need to be applied so that we can help support maintaining healthy sleep for the long term, even during this period.

If this resonates with you, talk to someone who understands

A lack of sleep can be devastating to your mental and physical health. I’ve seen it happen countless times in my practice, with women who are struggling for an easy solution like “just get more hours” or a quick fix. The reality is that there isn’t one simple thing you could do – but this doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We truly have to peel back the layers of the onion to understand why it’s happening in the first place.

If you’re a woman in your mid-40s to 50s and have trouble sleeping, the first thing you should know is that you are not alone. It can be quite common for women this age to have difficulty getting enough restful sleep. However, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s okay – deteriorating sleep patterns can impact your life.  So what can you do about it? The first step is to figure out why you aren’t getting enough sleep. Many factors can contribute, such as eating habits, insulin levels, and cortisol elevations. Once you identify the root cause of your problem, you can start to trial and error different solutions until you find one that works for you. And if all of this sounds like too much work, don’t worry – we can help! Our team understands the challenges women face when it comes to getting good night’s sleep and we would be happy to schedule a discovery call with you so we can discuss a plan tailored specifically for your needs.

If you’re experiencing deteriorating sleep in your 40s and would like help getting to the bottom of it, we’d be happy to schedule a discovery call with you. During this call, we can discuss your symptoms in more detail and come up with a plan tailored specifically for you.

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DISCLAIMER:  The information in this email is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content is for general informational purposes only and does not replace a consultation with your own doctor/health professional

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