Last week I explained why, for most people, waking at 3 am is not a true sleep problem, it’s a blood sugar problem. (If you have not already done so, it would be a good idea to read that blog now. However, for many women, waking at 3 am begins at menopause. What’s going on here? Blood sugar fluctuations are still the root of the problem, but there’s another factor to consider now.
Menopause didn’t trigger the blood sugar roller coaster – you were probably riding that before the “change of life” – it just wasn’t interfering with your sleep before. That’s because when peri-menopause arrives, the adrenal glands have to work harder. In countless women, this leads to adrenal fatigue. The adrenal glands are our main organs of stress response. Adrenal fatigue is a condition that occurs when we are under stress (even just the busyness of everyday life) for prolonged periods and the function of our overworked adrenals starts to lag.
Adrenal fatigue causes the adrenals to act erratically. This results in them not producing enough hormones when you need them (feeling tired and sluggish in the morning?) or too much hormone when you don’t need them, producing anxiety, a mind that races at bedtime, or a middle of the night adrenalin surge that wakes you up. In fact, except for hot flashes and night sweats, most of the symptoms we associate with menopause are really caused by adrenal fatigue. Symptoms like fatigue, mild depression, low libido, foggy, unclear thinking and irritability.
To recap, if you have been waking at 3 am since menopause you need to:
- Balance your blood sugar
- Support the function of your adrenal glands
I described how to balance blood sugar last week. This week: how to support adrenal gland function.
- Regular, mild to moderate exercise. Nothing too strenuous, which could further tax your adrenals. Exercise helps your body burn off excess stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol.
- B-vitamins. Ever seen “stress tabs” at your local health food store? These are combos of B vitamins. The adrenals need B vitamins to make hormones.
- Adaptogen herbs. Mother nature has kindly provided us with a class of plant-based medicines that support adrenal gland function to help us cope with stress. Taking one or a combo of these will do great things for your physical and emotional well-being. Here are some a my favorite adaptogens:
*Ahwaganda (Withania somnifera) – Has been shown to optimize cortisol production.
*Siberian Ginseng (Elutherococcus senticosus) – Great for improving endurance, stamina and resistance to fatigue during stress.
*Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) – My favorite herb! Wonderful for boosting mood. Should not be used by people who have a bipolar disorder, as it may boost their mood too much.
*Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) – Clinical trials show lavender supplements calm irritability and frustration.
*Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) – Licorice should not be used if you have high blood pressure. On the other hand, it’s great if you have low blood pressure or a tendency for lightheadedness when you stand up.
*Maca (Lepidiou meyenii) – increases general well-being, mild libido enhancing effect 😉
- Adrenal glandular extracts. These are desiccated (dried) preparations of adrenal glands (usually from pigs) that you take in capsule or tablet form. Obviously not for the vegans in the crowd, but they do really help support adrenal function.
Occasionally women will report that when they wake at 3 am they have productive thoughts and they feel in tune with cosmic energies at that time. More power to you, if that is the case. However, if, after spending most of the night communing with the cosmos, you drift off to sleep moments before your alarm goes off and you’re exhausted for the rest of the day, then you should be getting more sleep. Stabilizing blood sugar and supporting adrenal gland function will get you there.
Please post your questions and comments!
Next up: Waking in the middle of the night: why 3:00?