High estrogn levels can cause PMS, mood swings, painful/heavy periods, as well as insomnia. Learn what you can do to reduce estrogen dominance and improve your sleep.
It’s so frustrating, a feeling of such helpless – not being able to fall asleep at night.
You know you desperately need a few solid hours of sleep to face your day, but your brain just can’t seem to shut down, no matter what you try.
After counting thousands of sheep you’re still tossing and turning – and wide awake in the middle of the night.
This may happen when you sleep in an unfamiliar bed away from home, or you have a big exam or an important meeting the next day. Or you get super excited about a new idea, or tormented by an emotionally charged argument.
It’s common (and natural) to have disrupted sleep cycles from time to time. We all have one of those long and restless nights when the brain is unable to shut off, due to excitement, worry, fear, or external stimuli, such as noise, light, heavy meals, alcohol, caffeine, etc.
But if this happens often and you have trouble pinpointing the direct cause, your insomnia could be related to something more biological (e.g., medical, psychiatric, or hormonal issues).
In my post, Hormone Imbalances and Sleep Disorders, I talked about the three types of hormone-related insomnia. Here I’ll explain how high estrogen (estrogen dominance) can disturb your sleep.
Why High Estrogen Can Cause Insomnia
Our hormones are processed in the liver where useful substances are absorbed into the blood stream and waste is broken down and eliminated (through urine and feces).
When there’s too much estrogen in the body, the liver has to work overtime. This can cause restless sleep.
Symptoms and Timing of High Estrogen Insomnia
There are two clues that can help you identify if high estrogen levels may be the reason behind your sleep disturbances. One is the timing of your insomnia, another is the presence of certain symptoms during your menstrual cycles.
Timing of High Estrogen Insomnia
Estrogen levels peak at around ovulation. If you tend to have trouble sleeping around mid-cycle, high estrogen could be a possible cause.
After ovulation, estrogen levels drop off and rise again to a second peak about one week before menstruation. During this window if estrogen levels are too high relative to progesterone, you may suffer from various PMS symptoms as well as insomnia.
1-3am at Night
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the liver is most active at night from 1am to 3am. If you tend to have trouble sleeping during these hours, an overloaded liver (due to high estrogen levels) could be a suspect.
For many women, sleep quality seems to get worse as they transition into perimenopause – the years leading up to menopause which can begin as early as our mid-30s. During perimenopause, progesterone starts to decline which can result in relative estrogen dominance.
However, it’s important to note that the primary cause of insomnia during perimenopause is due to lower progesterone levels, so please refer to my post, Low Progesterone Insomnia, if you’re perimenopausal.
Symptoms of High Estrogen Insomnia
If your insomnia is related to high estrogen levels, you may also experience other signs of estrogen dominance. For example…
- Nervousness, irritability, anger outbursts
- Swelling or tender breasts, water retention (swollen fingers and legs), weight gain, nausea, bloating, sugar cravings
- Fertility issues caused by fibroids, ovarian cysts, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis
- Heavy menstrual bleeding, menstrual blood that is dark red or with black clots, painful period cramps, PMS
So, based on the timing and the above symptoms, do you think high estrogen may be the underlying cause of your sleep disturbances?
What Causes High Estrogen Insomnia
There are three primary reasons that can cause high estrogen levels – and its related insomnia.
1. Exposure to xenoestrogens
It’s not natural for the body to produce an excessive amount of estrogen. A common way this may happen is through the intrusion of foreign estrogens (xenoestrogens).
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that mimic the functions of our natural estrogens. When they enter our body, they attach themselves to our cells’ receptors, taking over the natural estrogens’ functions to control growth and development – and causing elevated estrogen levels.
We can bring xenoestrogens into our body through foods packed with animal hormones, antibiotics and pesticides, or consumer products made with toxic chemicals. Check out the top 10 xenoestrogens you should avoid to regain your hormone balance.
Though estrogen is primarily produced in the ovaries, it’s made by fat cells as well. So being overweight also contributes to estrogen dominance – and other associated conditions, such as PMS, high estrogen insomnia, and even breast and uterine cancers.
3. Congested liver (due to toxin built-up, low fiber diet, or unprocessed emotions)
As mentioned earlier, estrogen is metabolized in the liver. It needs to be broken down and excreted efficiently to avoid unhealthy buildup.
Certain foods congest the liver and impair its ability to process estrogen. They can also cause the accumulation of toxins in the digestive tracks (e.g., constipation).
These foods may include animal products packed with antibiotics and growth hormones, refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice, as well as processed foods low in fiber and essential nutrients, such as sweets and potato chips, alcohol, etc.
According to TCM, liver is also associated with the emotion of anger. If you have pent-up frustration, resentment, anger or hatred, these emotions can jam up the liver and hinder its ability to process emotions as well.
For more information, please read the Five Leading Causes of Estrogen Dominance.
How to Improve High Estrogen Insomnia
When you address the root cause, the symptoms will take care of themselves.
So if your insomnia is caused by high estrogen levels, you need to work on getting rid of the excess estrogen in your body. When you do, your sleep quality (as well as PMS and mood swings) will improve naturally.
Here are 6 steps you can take:
1. Detoxify the liver
For most people it’s helpful to detoxify the liver occasionally. If you’re really motivated and have a strong constitution, you can try a more powerful form of detox, such as a master cleanse.
Personally, I find it a little too depleting for my body, so I prefer a milder form of detox, one that involves eating healthy foods, while adding certain supplements to clear the liver.
Dr. Tobias Liver Support – 21 Day Cleanse contains several major liver herbs, as well as enzymes to help cleanse and repair the liver and support its natural detox process – and it’s received excellent reviews.
2. Improve estrogen metabolism
DIM-Plus contains diindolylmethane, a phytonutrient found in cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower and kale. It supports the activity of enzymes that improve estrogen metabolism.
Numerous randomized trials have proved the beneficial effects of DIM on improving estrogen metabolism and helping reduce excess estrogen in the body. It’s worth trying it out.
3. Avoid xenoestrogens
Once you get rid of the junk from your liver, you want to keep it clean by being conscious of what you take into your body. Take a note of the top 10 xenoestrogens and try your best to avoid them by choosing healthier alternatives.
Tip: Always read the label on a package. Buy organics when you can.
4. Promote healthy bowl movements
Because estrogen is excreted from urine and stool, a healthy elimination is important for estrogen metabolism. So make sure you have at least one bowel movement per day.
Drink plenty of water. Eat foods with a good amount of fiber, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, dry prunes, etc.
You can also take probiotics to create a healthier and cleaner gut, which will help relieve the burden of the liver.
5. Deal with unresolved emotions
We all have unresolved emotional issues. It may be repressed anger, a feeling of abandonment or unworthiness, guilt, shame or grief. We carry them deep in our subconscious while going about our daily business.
For women, these buried emotions tend to get brought to the surface right before or around menstruation (due to various triggers and our hormonal vulnerability).
It’s sometimes difficult to understand and deal with these deep (unconscious) and powerful emotions. But the good news is that when they show up during each menstrual cycle, we get an opportunity to examine them and heal them.
This is certainly true in my case. Each menstruation brings up its share of difficult emotions for me. The old wounds may dress up in difficult costumes, but over time I’ve learned to recognize them no matter what they wear. And I’m less frighten and less easily overtaken by them.
Now when they come to visit, I say, “Ha, my old friend. It’s you again. Are you still here? Guess we still have some healing to do together.”
It’s not easy at first. But with each rinse, the muds get settled and the water gets clearer. Over time you’ll be better at spotting your triggers, understanding your emotions, and choosing how you want to respond. And with a regular emotional detox, you’ll be able to experience life more fully, and live with more joy.
6. Support progesterone
When estrogen levels are high, progesterone levels will be relatively low. So it helps to support progesterone to counter balance estrogen. This can reduce signs of estrogen dominance, such as PMS, mood swings, and insomnia.
However, it’s important to differentiate the primary cause of insomnia, whether it’s due to high estrogen levels (with relative progesterone deficiency), or due to progesterone deficiency (with relative estrogen dominance).
This post applies to insomnia caused by high estrogen levels (with relative progesterone deficiency). If low progesterone is the primary cause, please refer to my post, Low Progesterone Insomnia.
I hope you find this information helpful. As usual, please share your questions, thoughts and experiences in the comment field below. I always look forward to hearing from you!