Many women experience sleep deprivation as one of the biggest problems of menopause. Not only does this condition cause fatigue, it also increases the risk of overweight, depression, impaired immune resistance, weak bones, atherosclerosis, and dementia. It is therefore a very good idea to solve any sleeping problem with the natural substance melatonin and a few other simple adjustments.
Menopause (the climacterium) normally occurs at the age of 45-55, and it is a known fact that the reduction of sex hormones may cause hot flushes. There is evidence pointing to the reduced melatonin production as the underlying cause of impaired sleep quality, a problem that lasts for several years in some women. So what is melatonin, and why are supplements of this substance such an effective way to obtain that valuable, intense sleep and good health?
Sleep disorders during menopause
Many menopausal women have trouble falling asleep, or they may only sleep lightly and wake up several times during the night. The drop in sex hormone levels often causes a drastic reduction in the body's melatonin production, which is otherwise responsible for the deep, healthy sleep with lots of dream activity.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone that controls our 24-hour clock (circadian rhythm), our sleep, and many physiological processes throughout life.
Melatonin is primarily produced in the pineal gland of our brain when we are exposed to darkness at night. The size of the pineal gland and the melatonin production decrease, the older we are. Lack of daylight and/or darkness plus things like menopause, stimulants, medicine, and jet-lag may also reduce our natural melatonin production, thereby making it difficult for us to sleep well at night.
In addition, melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that protects our cells when we are asleep. Although melatonin is primarily known as a sleep hormone, this feature is merely the tip of the iceberg. Melatonin also has anti-ageing properties, it boost the immune system, and it is beneficial for our cardiovascular system, our bones, and it helps prevent an array of chronic diseases.
Melatonin or sleeping pills
Women generally experience more sleeping problems than men. About 40 per cent of adults are regular users of sleeping pills Insomnia medication such as benzodiazepines anesthetize the body and destroy the much needed REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). Both sleeping medication and sleep-initiating drugs like Zolpidem are habit-forming, they are linked to serious side effects, and they should only be last resort solutions for short periods.
In comparison, supplements of melatonin correct the body's 24-hour rhythm and natural sleep pattern - without any side effects.
Why is a good night's sleep so essential?
We depend on a good night's sleep to allow us to digest and recharge - physically and mentally. Our sleep is divided in different stages that are repeated 4-5 times every night. During the deep sleep, our brain is detoxified. The so-called REM sleep that involves all our dreaming activity is like a mental "laundering". During this process, things that we have experienced during the day are sorted or categorized, and learning, memory, creativity, and positive mood are stimulated.
When we fail to get our sleep, toxins accumulate in the brain. In fact, neurological diseases such as depression, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and stroke are all linked to sleep disturbances.
In the short run, sleep disorders typically cause fatigue, sensitive blood sugar, bad moods, poor digestion, and impaired resistance. In the long run, it will speed up the ageing process and increase the risk of several chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, overweight, irritable bowel, neurological diseases, atherosclerosis, blood clots, and cancer.
Fight free radicals in your sleep
Free radicals are aggressive molecules that attack our cells and tissues. The free radical impact is enhanced tremendously by stress - including the stress of not getting enough sleep - poisonings, inflammation, and ageing processes. As free radicals are involved in atherosclerosis and most chronic diseases, melatonin plays a significant and often underestimated role in the prevention of these problems due to its role as an antioxidant.
Melatonin's antioxidant effect is 200 per cent greater than that of vitamin E. A study of post-menopausal women shows that melatonin supplements are able to inhibit free radical oxidation of cell membranes (also known as lipid peroxidation), a process that leads to the breakdown of cells and their functions.
Melatonin and a healthy sleep make your bones strong
Old rats that are supplemented with melatonin have stronger bones. This was seen in a study carried out on a group of rats whose age corresponded with 60-year old humans. The rats were given either melatonin or placebo for 10 weeks. After the study was terminated the rats' thigh bones (femurs) were analyzed. The rats that had been given melatonin had increased bone density and more positive markers for skeleton and muscle health, compared with the rats on placebo.
Bone tissue is rebuilt at night, because it wears down during the daytime. However, as we grow older and sleep less, our bone restoration deteriorates. This often makes our bones fragile, and women are particularly vulnerable to this problem after menopause.
It is therefore important to get a proper night's sleep and to make sure of having sufficiently high melatonin levels if you want strong bones throughout life.
Other quick tips on how to sleep well
- Get plenty of daylight, exercise, and fresh air
- Eat a healthy diet and make sure to get enough vitamin B and magnesium
- Avoid coffee and other caffeinated beverages after 4 pm, as they reduce the body's melatonin production
- Avoid or limit your intake of alcohol, which is also known to reduce your melatonin production
- Avoid strong light before bedtime, including electrosmog from cell phones, tablets, computers, and other types of electronic equipment, as it interferes with the body's melatonin production
- Sleep in a cool bedroom in total darkness
- Turn off any electronic equipment in your vicinity
- Avoid stress - especially in the hours right before bedtime
Ewa Waleca-Kapica et al. Melatonin and Female Hormone Secretion in Postmenopausal Overweight Women. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2015
Toffol E et al. Melatonin in perimenopausal and postmenopausal women: associations with mood, sleep, climacteric symptoms, and quality of life. Pub Med gov. 2014
Tresguerres IF, et al. Melatonin dietary supplement as an anti-aging therapy for age-related bone loss. Rejuvenation Res. 2014
Underwood, Emily. Sleep: The ultimate Brainwasher? Science/AAAS/News 2013
Graven, Andreas R. For lidt søvn kan give depression. Videnskab.dk 2014
Prigg, Mark. Using mobile phones and tablets before bed could be affecting your sleep, warn scientists - and they say teens are at most risk. Mail on line. 2012
Pierpaoli Walter, Regelson William. The Melatonin Miracle. Simon and Schuster 1996
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