The pace and stresses of today’s world means sleep is even more important to our general health and well being. However, our constant connection to the world, fueled by caffeinated drinks and other stimulants, electronic bombardment from television, computers, email, cell phones and other distractions is not conducive to setting us up for a restful night’s sleep. Add in the demands of work, home, children, and the challenge of eating well and getting regular exercise, and it’s no wonder we’re always tired!
According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders and women are more likely than men to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, especially as we age. One of the hallmark symptoms of perimenopause and menopause is insomnia due to declining estrogen levels. Stress and anxiety also elevates cortisol levels, eventually sending our adrenal glands into overdrive, which also affects our ability to sleep.
Most people function best when getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but studies show that American woman between ages 30-60 get an average of 6 hours and 41 minutes per night during the work week. We’re chronically sleep-deprived, and our constantly fluctuating hormone levels play a huge role in the problem.
While sleep medications can be helpful in the short term, they are not generally recommended for long-term use as they can be both physically and psychologically addictive and increase some health risks. Changing your environment, cutting down on stimulants like caffeine and alcohol that can disrupt sleep and seeing a hormonal health professional to address any underlying hormonal imbalances can help.
Establishing a nightly “shut down and unwind” or sleep hygiene ritual with regular sleep and waking times in important. Avoiding caffeine late in the day, and shutting off television and computers after 9 pm or even earlier is also good. A small dose of the supplement melatonin to help regulate sleep and waking cycles, a glass of warm milk (mom really did know best) or a warm bath can also help. People with chronic sleep issues or sleep anxiety, a condition where fear of not being able to sleep becomes a self-fulfilling nightly reality, may also benefit from counseling.
While there will always be things to keep us awake at night, learning how to properly manage or reduce our stress levels and shut off can help keep us rested and healthier. Within my own practice, I’ve seen many women’s sleep issues become manageable or no longer an issue simply through proper hormone replacement therapy and establishing good sleep hygiene habits.
Weight Loss: What’s Hampering Your Fight in the Battle of the Bulge? 4/8/2013
Obesity is the nation’s No. 2 cause of preventable death, increasing risk for developing type II diabetes, coronary artery/heart disease, breast, colon and other cancers, hypertension, stroke, and other health conditions. Eating right and regular exercise are important, but the dreaded “middle age spread” is not all due to years of TV, donuts, beer and bonbons. As we age, it becomes harder to fight the battle of the bulge due to hormonal imbalances. Here’s a simplified overview of how it happens.
Insulin helps our bodies convert food to glucose (sugar) and deliver it through the bloodstream. Testosterone helps glucose enter the muscles, where it’s metabolized, or burned off for energy. When testosterone is low, excess glucose builds up in the blood, triggering the pancreas to send out more insulin to lower blood sugar. Insulin then triggers hunger and cravings, so we eat, and the cycle of highs and lows begins again. Over time, the liver starts converting all the excess glucose into fat.
Thyroid hormones drive the body’s metabolic engine and glucose is the fuel. The thyroid gland depends on testosterone to function properly, and the body needs testosterone to metabolize glucose efficiently. When it’s too high (hyperthyroidism), fuel burns too fast. If it gets sluggish or starts to fail (hypothyroidism) the fuel burns very slowly. One in three women and one in five men will be hypothyroid by age 50, so to lose weight and keep it off, testosterone and thyroid levels must be in balance. But there’s more.
Chronic stress also triggers weight gain. Adrenal glands produce cortisol, which also stimulates glucose production. Under stress, cortisol levels spike to help the body quickly produce energy needed in “fight or flight” situations. Once the threat is gone, cortisol falls back to normal. Under chronic stress, levels stay elevated, producing more glucose, and excess is stored as fat, especially around the mid-section.
With age, stress, and hormonal imbalances all contributing to excess weight, it’s important to have hormone levels properly tested, evaluated, and if necessary, treated through hormone replacement therapy, and/or thyroid hormone. The benefits clearly outweigh the risks of remaining overweight.