Sleep is the undercover superhero of our health (pardon the pun). If there’s one thing you take away from reading this article, let it be this.
The quality of our sleep and our circadian rhythms (our internal body clock that works on a 24-hour cycle) affect certain hormone levels such as melatonin, cortisol, leptin, and ghrelin. These hormones support us both mentally and physically.
In the busyness of our daily lives, the importance of sleep has become lost. Daily challenges such as stress, struggling to unwind, and environmental and lifestyle choices can delay or interrupt our sleep. There are also factors that may be outside of our control, for example, jet lag or shift work.
So how many hours of sleep should we be aiming for? On a regular basis, you want to aim for between 7–9 hours of sleep each and every night.
According to the Mental Health UK charity, approximately 1 in 5 people aren’t getting enough sleep. Other research shows that 6 in 10 women aged between 25–59 said they don’t think they get enough sleep.
What are the signs of poor sleep or sleep deprivation?
Poor sleep patterns can cause hormonal imbalances which, in turn, can cause various health problems. Let’s take a closer look at some of these:
Developing infections. Not getting enough sleep can lead to a weakened immune system and this can negatively affect your hormones. Your body produces cytokines (protein molecules) while you sleep, which support your immune system. If you’re not getting enough sleep then your body may struggle to fight infections such as the common cold. So, if you’re someone who always seems to be the first to get floored by a cold, or find it dragging on for weeks before you finally shake it off, its worth looking into your sleep routines and seeing if this could be contributing to the problem.
Poor memory and concentration. Not getting enough sleep can mean that your brain struggles to concentrate, process, and remember what you’ve learnt during the day.
Weight gain. When you sleep, your body makes leptin (which suppresses your appetite) and decreases the production of ghrelin (which increases your appetite). If you don’t get enough sleep, your leptin levels reduce and your levels of ghrelin will rise. The change in hormones can make you feel hungry, and can, therefore, mean that you eat more and put on weight.
Increased risk of diabetes. Lack of sleep can cause your body to become resistant to the hormone insulin. This means that your cells are not able to use insulin. This can lead to too much sugar in your bloodstream and can increase your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Low mood. Not getting enough sleep can make it difficult for your body to restore its energy levels. This can cause anxiety, depression, and feelings of irritability.
Joint pain. If we haven’t had enough sleep then our body doesn’t produce the growth hormone needed to repair our cells and tissue, such as muscle damage. This can affect our physical performance and recovery time after an injury.
How can sleep affect female health?
During perimenopause, oestrogen levels begin to decline, which can cause disrupted sleep. A review article highlights that women found that their sleep became worse during perimenopause. For example, they found it hard to fall asleep and to stay asleep. They also woke up during the night and felt sleepy during the day.
Also, due to a decline in oestrogen levels, women may begin to experience hot flushes, night sweats, palpitations, and headaches, which can also disturb sleep.
Changes or disruptions to your sleep may imbalance your hormones. This may lead to problems with ovulation, conception, and implantation.
The area in your brain that regulates and produces your reproductive hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, also produces and regulates sleep-wake hormones such as melatonin and cortisol. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your brain will prioritise making stress hormones rather than reproductive hormones.
Menstrual cycle and PMS/PMDD
Due to the changes in your oestrogen and progesterone levels happening the week leading up to your period, you may find that you experience poor sleep quality and sleep disturbance.
Studies have shown that women with PMS and PMDD experience sleeping difficulties such as vivid dreams, nightmares, insomnia, waking up often, and poor sleep quality. This can cause sleepiness, tiredness, and reduced alertness during the day. After starting your period, you may find that sleeping disruptions stop and you get a better night’s sleep.
A study shows that women with PCOS are more likely to have broken sleep, difficulties getting to sleep, restless sleep, and severe tiredness compared to women without PCOS.
Women with PCOS are at a higher risk of developing diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, low mood, and anxiety, all of which can contribute to a poor night's sleep.
It’s also important to note that women with PCOS are at a higher risk of Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA). This happens when there is a blockage in the airway during sleep which can interfere with a restful night's sleep.
Top 4 tips to support better sleep
The good news is that there are things you can do to give yourself a good chance of catching those Z’s.
Set yourself boundaries and be consistent with them. Allow yourself to get 7–9 hours of sleep every night. If possible, try to align your sleeping patterns with day and night cycles.
Stop looking at screens for at least an hour before you go to bed. Screens can emit blue light which can interfere with your circadian timing. Instead, try reading a book, doing gentle stretching exercises, listening to relaxation music, or meditating.
Stop drinking caffeine such as coffee, energy drinks, fizzy drinks, and tea before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant that can make you feel awake and may cause you to get less sleep.
Alcohol does have sedative effects which can help you to fall asleep. However, this can lead to disruptions to your sleep cycle and reduce REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and will likely leave you feeling tired the next day.
If you regularly drink alcohol to help you fall asleep then you can start to build a tolerance to it. You may find that you are drinking more each time you want to fall asleep. This only enhances poor sleep quality and can cause other health problems further down the road.
If you want to have an alcoholic drink, aim to stop drinking 6 hours before you go to bed, to reduce the chance of any sleep disruptions.
Create the perfect Sleep Sanctuary
Making your bedroom a safe and comfortable place to rest can help you to have a better night’s sleep.
Have you carried out an audit to see if you’re creating the best environment to fall asleep in? Here are some questions to begin building your sanctuary:
Do you have a comfortable mattress and pillow?
Is your room a cool temperature? Ideally around 16-17 degrees Celsius.
Is your room quiet? Can you reduce any external noise?
Can you hang blackout curtains to reduce the amount of light coming through your window?
Would it be helpful to remove clocks, computers, and other screens from your room?
Next steps towards balancing sleep and your hormones.
As we’ve seen, sleep is essential for balancing our hormones and reducing the likelihood of developing a range of health problems.
If you're ready to fall into a healthy sleep routine, balance your hormones, and feel alert during the day, why not hop on a free 30-minute Health Transformation Call to find out about my programmes and services. I look forward to taking this first step with you.
Navigating Perimenopause with Confidence
At the end of September I will be launching my first Programme, "Navigating Perimenopause with Confidence". This is the first Programme of its kind, allowing you to learn everything you need to know about perimenopause at your own pace, with regular support from me, and a community of women to help guide and support you on your journey.
The Programme is action-orientated; I provide everything you need to know about perimenopause and help you to understand all of the moving parts, and then you are set clear actions and next steps to complete in your own time. The Programme is aimed at women who are 100% ready to own their perimenopause journey and put in the work to ensure they feel confident, healthy and happy as they move through the transition.
If you'd like to get all of the details for the course and see what its all about, join the Programme Waitlist and be the first to receive all the details on Monday 11th September.
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Devesa, J., et al. (2016). Multiple effects of growth hormone in the body. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5063841/
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