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Hormones and Insomnia

adrenal health cortisol estrogen insomnia progesterone thyroid Aug 26, 2021
Hops in tea or tincture form can help settle the mind if you are having trouble with sleep

Solving insomnia seems like it's just a matter of helping our brain shut down, but often we actually need to balance our hormones to help us get to sleep and stay that way for the entire night. When we look at the pattern of our insomnia, it can help us understand more about which hormones may be impacting our sleep.

Adrenal Glands

Our adrenal glands make our stress hormones: specifically, adrenalin (also called epinephrine) and cortisol.  Historically, stress for humans meant escaping from danger, so our stress hormones are designed to help us run fast and think fast. Adrenalin makes our heart speed up to bring blood to our muscles and brain.  Cortisol mobilizes sugar from storage to help feed the heart, muscles and brain. So when we make these hormones, we feel wide awake.

The other time we make cortisol is when our blood sugar gets very low. Usually 7-8 hours after we eat, if blood sugar is dipping, our adrenals will produce cortisol to feed our brain and body.  If we eat dinner at 7pm, 8 hours later is 3am--for many of us, cortisol then starts being produced and then we wake up! It can then be very difficult to go back to sleep.  So if your pattern of insomnia is waking at 2 or 3am, then not being able to go back to sleep for an hour or two (or more!), often this is because of an excess of adrenal hormone production. Often, eating a small protein snack before bed can help avoid this cortisol spike in the middle of the night.

Thyroid

One of the best ways to have a general understanding of how the thyroid works is that it regulates the "rate" at which processes happen in the body.  Low thyroid will often manifest as dry skin, slow digestion (constipation), slow heart rate, and weight gain.  High thyroid will often act like the speed button has been pushed: fast digestion (diarrhea), rapid heart rate, shakiness, and weight loss.

Especially with high thyroid, that "high gear" feeling will make it hard to sleep.  The sense that your heart is beating too fast or too hard, racing thoughts, and shakiness are the sensations often described by people with hyperthyroid.  These symptoms can be made much worse by caffeine consumption, particularly during the later part of the day. People with low thyroid can also experience insomnia, but it is more often associated with muscle or joint discomfort, the sensation that food isn't digesting well or "just sitting there", and low mood.  Paying attention to whether you are having any of the thyroid symptoms listed above can also give you a clue as to whether this is an underlying factor in any trouble you are having with sleep.

Reproductive Hormones

Particularly during times when the hormones are shifting, such as postpartum, perimenopause, and menopause, women can experience insomnia.  Often this is not specifically due to one hormone being high or low, but rather an imbalance in progesterone and estrogen relative to one another. 

While people with reproductive hormone imbalance can have general symptoms of difficulty falling or staying asleep, often these are accompanied by some more "classic" hormone symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats.  Often, women will wake and have to throw the covers off or even change pajamas if they sweat profusely; sometimes it will be very difficult to go back to sleep afterwards.  Consuming wine or high sugar foods before bed can make this much worse.

Diet to support hormonal insomnia

Generally, sleep will be supported best by a diet that supports blood sugar and promotes relaxation.  Eating three meals per day with minimal refined sugar and starch and a good protein source in at least two of these meals will set you up for more balanced blood sugar through the night.  

Avoidance of caffeine or other stimulants can help with any type of insomnia, particularly when the thyroid is too high.  Especially if you are waking feeling hot or sweaty, strict avoidance of alcohol (particularly red wine) and sweets is also key. Also, pay attention to how frequently you need to get up to urinate.  If you are getting up twice or more during the night, it may be useful for you to cut off water consumption by 7pm.

Setting up a good bedtime ritual is critical for good sleep. For insomnia from adrenal overstimulation, that protein snack before bed, such as an apple with peanut butter, hard boiled egg, or handful of almonds can also be really helpful.  A hot drink can also be a relaxing way to get your brain to rest.  Chamomile, hops, lemon balm, passionflower and catnip are all relaxing herbs that can relax your mind and calm the digestion to ensure peaceful rest.

 

Want to learn more about how you can optimize your hormones? Check out Dr Kaycie's Women's Hormone Health Masterclass!

 

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