Explanations for fatigue and energy levels in peri-menopause and menopause.
I’m an awesome sleeper. I am the type of person who can sleep through just about anything. I attribute this to a survival mechanism that I developed when my kids were young and waking up at night. Now, in my peri-menopausal years, I still sleep like a log. But on days when I do sleep less, it’s really hard to make up those hours, and, combined with my general hormonal depletion and schedule, I’m quite worried about being plagued with the sleep problems that many women tell me about.
A lot of the energy exhaustion and sleeplessness are due to routines that we have established for years. For me, it was certainly easier to run on empty than address the poor habits that I had developed. Multi-tasking, grabbing food on the run, running errands or chauffeuring when I wasn’t working, returning emails between 9 pm and 11 pm, grabbing the one hour of rest before midnight bedtime and then getting up again at 6:30 am to start the day. And lots and lots of coffee. I was up to 5 cups a day. I could pull off the Wonder Woman / Super Mom tricks until my early 40s.
Now I realize that the organs – the adrenal glands – that help me run on empty have had to step up to the plate and perform overtime. But they don’t function as well in peri-menopause and menopause. The adrenal glands help handle stress and produce important sex hormones, as well as cortisol, melatonin and adrenalin. As our ovaries start to shut down and our sex hormones decline, our adrenals have to make up for the slack. These adrenals get tired of doing the hormone balancing and begin to shut down if they’re working too hard.
So, I am a lot more conscious that after I go through menopause, I need my adrenals to be healthy and I have to make sure that I don’t wear them out now. Adrenal fatigue is still not a condition recognized widely by the medical community. However, at Damiva, we are firm believers that most women in their 40s and 50s need some form of adrenal support. It only makes sense, given our busy lifestyles and all the stressors of modern life.
Here are some symptoms of adrenal fatigue:
– Waking up at night
– Being unable to fall asleep
– Not feeling rested after you wake up in the morning
– Weight gain, especially around the middle
– Low libido, low energy
– My usual tip-off symptom: Grabbing for that extra cup of coffee
I myself take an oral capsule of Ashwaganda – an Indian herb – from time to time to help with energy levels and stress and for adrenal support. Ashwaganda falls into the family of adaptogenic herbs, which help stabilize physiological processes. Our Chief Clinical Officer, Irene Hogan, was the one who first recommended it to me.
The first time I took Ashwaganda I felt an immediate effect. I thought, “Wow, this stuff actually works” The downside of Ashwaganda is that, after taking it for about 3 weeks, I crashed after stopping. This was a definite sign for me that I need the herbal supplement and that my adrenals were tired of over-performing.
Lifestyle changes are always the most important ones you can make. It’s hard though to have the discipline to do all the things that everyone tells us to do. How many times have you heard the following 10 tips or read about them in articles?
Practice self-care. Don’t over-commit. Go to bed before midnight. Unplug at night and avoid electronics in the bedroom. Stop propping up your adrenals with caffeine and sugar, which just give you a temporary fix. Eat protein and healthy snacks like nuts throughout the day to give you energy. Practice yoga. Go for a long walk and embrace nature. Meditate or at least take a break throughout your day. Avoid strenuous exercise especially at bedtime.
I had an especially busy week last week. I filmed 4 videos, had a 3-hour PR strategy meeting, a board meeting and an interview with a journalist – all on top of my usual operational meetings and emails. Out of the 10 tips above, in the last week, I practiced 4: I went to bed before midnight, tried to minimize my caffeine and sugar, did yoga and avoided exercise at bedtime (mainly because I avoided exercise last week). 4 out of 10 is a definite failure; I could have done a lot better. I did however supplement with Ashwaganda, wild salmon fish oil, and magnesium and zinc, all of which helped me get through my busy days.
There’s always room for behavioral improvement and it will come gradually. The better your health is in peri-menopause, the more energy and hormonal balance you will have in menopause. I’m very lucky to have all this information and these products available at my fingertips. It’s part of the reason Damiva turned into a menopausal health company – I wanted to share my learnings with every woman who is going, or has gone, through the same physiological, emotional and mental changes that I am.