When estrogen and progesterone levels are too high or too low, our sleep patterns might be all over the place. Find out if you have one of these three types of hormonal insomnia.
Do you tend to get moody and have trouble sleeping at night?
Perhaps you’re wondering if your naughty hormones – those usual suspects – are to blame.
Well your hunch may very well be right.
As women we’re under the influence of estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones not only regulate our menstrual cycles, but also have profound effects on our mood, energy, sleep, and overall sense of wellbeing.
Hormone Imbalance and Sleep Disorders
Our sleep patterns might be all over the place, as well. We may have trouble falling asleep, may awake in the middle of the night – and stay awake, or wake up feeling groggy and tired.
So how can estrogen and progesterone mess up our sleep?
Estrogen and Serotonin: Low Estrogen Insomnia
As you may know, serotonin is one of the most important brain chemicals – or neurotransmitters – for regulating the sleep/wake cycle. It’s also synthesized by the pineal gland to make melatonin, the hormone that’s directly related to healthy sleep.
When we have an adequate serotonin level, we tend to eat well, sleep tight, and feel content. On the other hand, low levels of serotonin have been linked with depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, headaches, and PMS.
As it turns out, estrogen has a positive effect on serotonin. It increases serotonin production and the number of serotonin receptors in the brain.
This may help explain why we tend to feel better (and sleep better) when estrogen is abundant in our younger years and during the first half of the menstrual cycle.
And why we’re more likely to suffer from headaches, insomnia, depression or anxiety when estrogen levels drop off during perimenopause/menopause, or right around menstruation.
Progesterone and GABA: Low Progesterone Insomnia
GABA is another important neurotransmitter, though less well known. Its big role in the body is to reduce the activity of neurons in the brain and central nervous system, which has a calming effect on the mind and body.
In other words, GABA helps reduce stress, increase relaxation, balance mood, alleviate pain, and promote sleep – all good stuff that helps us counter the daily stressors of life.
Progesterone stimulates GABA receptors. This connection may help explain why progesterone is considered a soothing hormone.
When our body produces the right amount of progesterone, we feel relaxed and levelheaded – and we sleep better. But when progesterone levels take a dive in the week leading up to menstruation or during perimenopause, we may get a bit more easily agitated or anxious, or have trouble sleeping at night.
Toxin Overload: High Estrogen Insomnia
Our hormones are processed in the liver where the useful substance is absorbed into the blood stream and the waste is broken down and eliminated (through urine and feces).
When there’s too much estrogen in the body (due to environmental exposure to xenoestrogens for example), the liver has to work overtime. This can cause restless sleep.
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 could be a possible cause.
Of course there are other reasons that can also affect the quality of our sleep, including stress, mental conditions such as depression and anxiety, chronic health issues, and environmental factors such as temperature, noise, light, bed comfort and electronic distractions.
Recommendations for Hormonal Insomnia
Though hormones may seem abstract and complex, it’s helpful to know how they can affect your sleep. Because when you identify the hormonal causes of your insomnia, you can take steps to balance your hormones and improve the quality of your sleep.
Here are my recommendations to help you solve your hormone-related sleep mystery:
1. See if you have signs of estrogen dominance or deficiency.
If you suffer from PMS, and you tend to wake up at around 1-3am at night, your sleep disturbance could be related to elevated estrogen levels. Read how to lower estrogen dominance.
On the other hand, if you have difficulty sleeping around your periods, or you’re approaching menopause (if you’re in your 40s, for example), low estrogen may be the cause of your insomnia. Read how to supplement your estrogen naturally.
2. See if you have signs of progesterone deficiency.
Progesterone deficiency can be associated with either estrogen dominance or deficiency. When estrogen is in excess, your progesterone level will be relatively low. And when estrogen is low due to a decline in adrenal reserve, your progesterone production is likely to decrease as well.
The good news is that progesterone is usually easier (and safer) for us to influence than estrogen. So make sure you read my recommendations on Low Progesterone Insomnia.
I hope this post gives you a basic understanding of how hormones can affect your sleep, and an idea of what steps you can take to sleep better at night.
Please feel free to leave a comment and let me know if you have any questions or feedback.