The hormone changes that occur during perimenopause make attention to our exercise and sleep routines even more important. Managing symptoms requires a multi-pronged approach, including making lifestyle choices that focus on creating a balance. Without adequate exercise and sleep, the hormonal imbalances tend to become aggravated.
As discussed in the previous post, I have decided to approach managing symptoms beginning with the least invasive strategies. Since menopause is not a disease, we are not seeking to eradicate something abnormal but rather manage imbalances. In the last installment, we covered some of the dietary choices that seem to have a positive impact on perimenopausal symptoms.
Other lifestyle changes that are highlighted by most medical professionals include: moderate exercise, adequate sleep, stress management, embracing the wisdom of our experience and finding meaningful work and activities.
Exercise, like diet, seems to have a significant impact on our endocrine system and helps to balance hormone levels. Studies have shown that aerobic exercise helps to manage weight, lower insulin levels and balance blood sugar levels.
It definitely has a positive impact on our moods. There is some evidence that exercise helps with both depression and anxiety by enhancing our feel good chemicals (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids), reducing the immune response and inflammation. Studies have shown that the optimal mood enhancing effects occur from daily exercise for 20 minutes or so. Exercising every other day or intense workouts on the weekends do not have the same effect. Getting a moderate amount of exercise regularly is more effective than sporadic workouts.
Recent studies have shown that sleep deprivation is one of the leading causes of quality of life and health issues. Inadequate sleep is an important factor in poor work performance, mood disorders (depression and anxiety), decreased cognitive abilities, obesity, impaired immune function and increased risk of cardiovascular disease. In fact a recent study has shown that just one night of missed sleep was associated with brain tissue loss. It is critically important to get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep for optimal health whether or not we are experiencing perimenopause.
NIH has suggested that sleep disorders become more prevalent as women move through the menopausal stages. This is believed to be, in part, due to night sweats and hot flashes (vasomotor symptoms) as well as the endocrine (hormonal) imbalances that occur with this life stage. Excessive cortisol (a stress hormone) is known to disrupt sleep patterns and can create racing thoughts and panic.
Melatonin, another hormone, is produced in total darkness, and the longer you stay in the dark, the more melatonin the pineal gland produces. Melatonin regulates our sleep and wake cycles, destroys free radicals, suppresses the development of breast cancer, increases the immune system’s killer lymphocytes and more.
Two of the most effective and non-invasive sleep aids that I have discovered are using a grounding mat in my bed and magnesium. For almost a decade, I have relied on these to get adequate rest. I do not use magnesium all the time, but I notice that when I get restless, if I add it to my nighttime ritual, my sleep is much more sound.
Sleep and exercise are the two major factors in HGH production. HGH is released into the bloodstream during sleep. However, we must be able to get to the Slow Wave Sleep (Delta wave) sleep so that the body can do its work.
Strength training and high intensity interval training (HIIT) also cause the body to produce human growth hormone (HGH). HGH levels impact our body’s ability to repair and recover and helps to maintain muscle mass, especially as we age. It is essential to push your body hard enough during cardio training to increase the release of the hormone, but not to over do it where your body can no longer recover. Too much and HGH decreases and cortisol is produced.
It is worth pointing out that sleep and exercise are also connected. A number of studies have shown that moderate exercise has a positive impact on sleep patterns and can help with insomnia. Likewise, getting adequate rest is extremely important in optimizing recovery from intense exercise.
Unfortunately, much of the evidence is anecdotal. I have been amazed during my research at how little conclusive evidence there is on the links between menopausal symptoms and exercise and sleep. There are still studies underway to determine the precise connections between exercise, sleep and perimenopause symptoms.
There are no simple answers or one size fits all solutions to managing this natural process. A common sense approach combined with a willingness to try different things is probably the best way to discover what works for us. The following strategies are the most common ideas I have found:
Making sure that our exercise and sleep routines can support optimal health and help to minimize perimenopause symptoms is the logical step after changing our diet. In the next installment, we will explore some of the herbal, homeopathic, and other natural remedies that can help manage the symptoms of perimenopause.
Frequently asked questions about perimenopause, exercise and sleep.
You are not alone, many women experience the same issue. Perimenopause is a hormonal transition similar to adolescence. Melatonin is the primary hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycles. A shift in one hormone creates a unpredictable ripple effect.
That is why we call managing perimenopause a balancing act.
North American Menopause Society
Fitness after 40: Building the right workout for a better body
Fitness tips for menopause: Why fitness counts
Barbara Sternfeld, PhD, and Sheila Dugan, MD
Physical Activity and Health During the Menopausal Transition
National Sleep Foundation
Menopause and Sleep
Howard M. Kravitz, DO, MPH and Hadine Joffe, MD, MSc
Sleep During the Perimenopause: A SWAN Story
NIH: National Institute on Aging
Sleep Problems and Menopause: What Can I Do?
May 13 2017