For anyone who prioritises work, tv, socialising or anything else over getting a decent night’s sleep, please reconsider your actions. There is such a thing as sleep debt, where you can afford to stay up late on occasion, pending that you sleep-in or make up the missed sleep the following night. However, ongoing, purposeful, shortened sleep can heavily impact your hormones, your menopause journey, and your life. Let’s look at how.
Cortisol is your stress hormone. If cortisol is doing its job properly it makes you feel alert, awake and ready to take on almost anything. In a perfect world, your cortisol is quite low at night, allowing you to get a restful night’s sleep. A lack of sleep can make you become sensitive to stress and if you get a hint of stress, you start producing cortisol. This, in turn, makes you quite alert and impacts your ability to sleep next, which impacts your ability to handle stress, which impacts your ability sleep, and so on the cycle goes.
A single night of poor sleep has been shown to lead to an increased level of ghrelin. Ghrelin has been termed the ‘hunger hormone’ because it stimulates appetite, increases food intake and promotes fat storage. This is often not an effect we are looking for, especially in menopause, and especially not day after day.
Several studies have examined and found that sleep deprivation leads to a decrease in leptin. Leptin is a hormone that helps to regulate energy balance by inhibiting hunger, which in turn helps to reduce fat stores. A decrease in the hormone that inhibits hunger leads to the commonly seen increased cravings and hunger that comes after a bad night’s sleep. Again, not so desirable in menopause.
A single night of reduced sleep can lead to temporary insulin resistance in healthy adults. This can lead to more fat storage and more sweet cravings. Insulin resistance is not only a condition that has its own negative effects on health, but it is often a precursor to a few other damaging health issues. Again, not exactly what most menopausal women, or anyone, is after.
Sleep deprivation reduces testosterone production in healthy men. This is fairly well agreed upon. The effects of sleep deprivation in women is undecided. However, testosterone levels rise and fall naturally with high levels seen in sleep, particularly in REM sleep. Without sleep, or REM sleep (as seen in menopause and those who are sleep deprived), it is logical to suggest that less testosterone is made, resulting in an effect of lowered libido, energy and concentration.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to locate any information about how sleep directly impacts your oestrogen levels (there is plenty of information about how oestrogen affects sleep… but not the other way around). Let’s think about it logically. A lack of sleep can impact your stress levels, food choices and your fat gain, all impacting your oestrogen response, oestrogen elimination and oestrogen production.
There is a similar picture for progesterone. It is difficult to locate any research or studies looking at how sleep deprivation affects your progesterone levels. At an extreme measure, sleep deprivation increases your stress sensitivity, which at an extreme level can stop you from ovulating, which stops you from producing progesterone. All extreme levels, but still a link.
The above is only looking at how some of the hormones are affected by sleep deprivation. We haven’t even considered the neurological, chemical, inflammatory and social aspects.
For anyone who suffers from poor sleep, you are well aware of how everything is affected. Reassess your bedtime, speak with the Australian Menopause Centre team if sleep is still a concern.
If you have had a bad sleep, and you are trying to get through the day as best as you can, consider the below tips:
- Sit by a window, or step outside – smell the fresh air and feel the sun on your skin
- Resist sugar, carbs and processed foods
- Prioritise balanced meals and snacks
- Don’t skip meals
- Power nap, if you must – cap it at 20mins (set an alarm)
- Take breaks – go outside or power nap
- Stay active – move, stretch, and if possible, take a hot-cold shower
- Caffeine is ok, but don’t overdo it, and nothing after midday
- Press pause on big projects or decisions
- Go to bed early tonight
Want to set yourself up for a good night’s sleep? Try these tips:
- Avoid caffeine after midday
- Ensure your sleeping room is dark – completely dark – no tv lights, clock lights, use blackout curtains
- Avoid eating and drinking heavily at least 3 hours before sleep
- Ensure you go to bed with enough time for get 7-9hrs of sleep before your alarm goes off
- Exercise regularly, but avoid doing it too close to bedtime (avoid it about 4hrs before bed)
- Meditate, or remove all worries and stress before bedtime – write it down if that helps get it out of your head
- Read a novel or unwind for at least 30 minutes before bedtime
- If you nap, cap it at 20mins, and no later than 2pm
- Rule out a sleep disorder – sleep apnoea and disordered breathing are common after menopause
- Consider bio-identical hormones, medication or supplementation – speak with our medical or naturopathic team for help
 Schmid, S. M., et al. (2008). “A single night of sleep deprivation increases ghrelin levels and feelings of hunger in normal-weight healthy men.” J Sleep Res 17(3): 331-334.
 Van Cauter, E., Spiegel, K., Tasali, E., & Leproult, R. (2008). Metabolic consequences of sleep and sleep loss. Sleep medicine, 9 Suppl 1(0 1), S23–S28. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1389-9457(08)70013-3
 Donga, E., et al. (2010). “A single night of partial sleep deprivation induces insulin resistance in multiple metabolic pathways in healthy subjects.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab 95(6): 2963-2968.
 Leproult, R., & Van Cauter, E. (2011). Effect of 1 week of sleep restriction on testosterone levels in young healthy men. JAMA, 305(21), 2173–2174. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2011.710