My Experience With Progesterone and SleepNov 13, 2023
Often when people speak about insomnia and disturbed sleep, they either talk about it as if it is some mystery disease (as in I have tried everything and don’t know why this is happening to me) or they try to simplify it to one single solution (it’s mindset, temperature, light (insert advice here). In my experience sleep is more complicated than this.
This is because interrupted sleep is a symptom, not a disease, and it can be due to a number of things (the underlying cause often differs person to person).
What is Insomnia?
First, it’s important to recognize that disturbed sleep and insomnia are not the same thing. Disturbed sleep is defined as a short period of interrupted sleep and is often due to factors such as life changes and stress. Insomnia is usually 3 months or more of disturbed sleep and is often driven by a fear of not being able to sleep (or a fear of being awake) based on previous nights of unsuccessful sleep.
So, if you are experiencing insomnia (or a long bout of disturbed sleep) is it always down to fear alone? Of course not!
The Ability to Sleep is Multi Factorial
A couple months ago I introduced something called Yes And Theory, which is basically to say there is rarely just 1 cause, life is more complicated than that and, often, multiple small changes can help to shift the needle back towards healthy sleep.
I was recently reminded of this in my own life experience. Most of you know that I have experienced disturbed sleep off and on since childhood and that I experienced a particularly difficult bout of insomnia a couple of years ago.
At the time of my insomnia experience it felt as if nothing was working, so when I finally became educated about sleep behavior and mindset, it felt like a godsend to me.
My Sleep Improved But My Hormones Did Not
It took time, but eventually my sleep when back to normal (almost). I was still struggling with frequent waking in the 2nd half of my cycle along with strong food cravings, moodiness, and unexplained weight gain, all of which started around the time I was experiencing insomnia.
Initially, I consulted a GP in the US who told me all my hormone levels were normal, but I knew something wasn’t right. It took several months until I was finally referred to a hormone specialist who was better equipped to understand what was happening for me.
Upon examining my updated test results and hearing my symptoms she was able to tell me that it was not in fact early perimenopause, as I had believed, but that my body was very low in progesterone which was causing an estrogen dominance and she sent me home with a bit of lifestyle advice plus a progesterone prescription.
Progesterone and Sleep
It is important to know that estrogen and progesterone play key roles in regulating the sleep-wake cycle, and disruptions in hormonal balance may impact sleep patterns including problems falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep.
Now I am a vain woman so my main motivation for seeing the doctor was for weight loss (coupled with the desire to stop feeling low grade crazy 10 days a month) not to sleep, so I was pleasantly surprised to notice an improvement in both the length and depth of my sleep. This improvement became noticeable almost instantly and is still in effect more than 2 weeks later.
For the first time in 2 years, I can truly say that my sleep is back to normal (for me).
So do I regret the past couple of years and not making it a priority to balance my hormones sooner? Honestly no.
Why I'm Glad I Fixed My Sleep BEFORE Taking Progesterone
I see so many desperate, stressed-out clients who will grasp at anything and everything to help them achieve their desired outcome, which is understandable when you are scared, tired, and confused.
I was once one of these clients myself and I vividly remember being so desperate I would have done anything, spent anything, to sleep.
The problem is, until you learn to stop being desperate and afraid and accept your experience nothing else is likely to work.
This is because the feelings of desperation, fear and anger push the nervous system into the fight flight sympathetic stress response and fuel the very hyperarousal that is sustaining insomnia.
It is this hyperarousal which causes other insomnia treatments (such as sleeping pills, lifestyle and sleep hygiene practices) to be ineffective in many people and, based on my experience, I do not believe that progesterone would have been enough to help me sleep on its own, without a significant shift in sleep mindset.
Because there was such a long delay between my insomnia experience and when I began taking progesterone, I have built up my inner resilience, and I know without a doubt that, regardless of what happens, my body will sleep when it is ready to, all I have to do is get out of its way.
Stress is a major culprit of imbalances in the body (especially hormonal imbalances) and treating hormones without addressing stress is akin to putting a band aid on a compound fracture (highly unlikely to help!).
Fixed Your Stress Then Bring Your Body Back to Balance
This is why I usually guide clients to work on sleep anxiety first and then seek additional assistance in bringing their body back into balance once insomnia and anxiety are back under control.
The ability to trust your body and the knowledge that you are not broken (sleep is an autonomic process you cannot lose) are key to insomnia recovery and nothing, including hormone balancing, is worth losing sight of these important lessons.
Interested in Learning More?
If you would like to learn more or book an individual session, please visit the Memberships page.
In the meantime, I would like to leave you with this important message. You are not broken! You are whole, perfect, and healthy exactly as you are, and you CAN sleep!
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