by Natasha Richardson
The gut and insomnia in menopause
Although hot flushes get the most attention in menopause, insomnia and lethargy are the second-most experienced problems. But lethargy (and hot flushes) have more to do with the stress you experienced preceding menopause than it does with your oestrogen levels.
Sleep in middle age
Did you know that the hormones you need to sleep are mostly made in your gut? Did you know that they derive from tryptophan, converted into 5HTP, serotonin and finally melatonin. Stress, however, produces cortisol which makes a hormone that destroys tryptophan! Melatonin is naturally produced when the pineal gland notices that it’s dark outside, likewise, cortisol is at a natural peak in the morning which helps us wake up.
As we age (from around 40+) we might start to really struggle to get to sleep. That’s because our melatonin levels are lower than they have been in our younger years. That means that it takes longer for us to respond to darkness. Which makes it even more important to avoid the blue light of screens an hour or two before bed. I recommend that people leave their phones to charge in the living room for this reason. A bedroom-charging phone is a temptation that most can not resist.
Sadly what tends to happen in mid-life is that a bunch of already bad habits start to catch up with you. We have a terrible sleep culture in the UK (and most of the ‘westernised’ world). We don’t respect darkness, we continue to look at our screens till way past 9pm and we love our caffeine.
Different kinds of sleep problems
If you’re struggling to get to sleep; it’s probably due to short term stress.
IF you’re struggling to stay asleep; it’s probably from long-term stress.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep and/or waking regularly (and you are middle-aged or above) it’s likely to be a mix of stress, and poor sleep habits exacerbated by age.
But what might be the missing link for everyone struggling with sleep is that the hormones we need for sleep are made in our gut. If you don't have a healthy gut microbiome it can be a challenge to turn the building blocks of our foods into the hormones we really need. So it’s important to look after it!
Try these tips:
Eat fermented foods
Eat leafy green veg
Drink chamomile tea (especially before bed)
When it comes to insomnia in menopause we aren’t looking at an ageing population deficiency in the very hormone that (supposedly) makes them ‘women’, but rather the exhausted bodies of millions of women and anyone with ovaries, who have given more to their loved ones and jobs than they have taken back for themselves in half a century!!