This clock is one that you’ll want to take note of if you value any aspect of your health as a woman in perimenopause, menopause and beyond. It’s your body’s internal clock, not the ‘I want a baby kind’ biological clock but a cycle that regulates all kinds of important functions in the body, from your sleep to your hormones. The reason you should care is that you will have a much better perimenopause if you keep this special clock in mind. And just as importantly, everything else in your health improves, too.
Circadian rhythms are your body’s internal cycles and they’re not entirely dissimilar to the watch you may wear on your wrist. They regulate the sleep-wake cycle, hormone production, and other physiological processes in your body. The name itself comes from the Latin phrase circa diem, meaning ‘about a day’. All sorts of organisms, from humans and animals to plants, have their own circadian rhythms that ensure different tasks happen at specific times of the day. It’s slightly different to a ’biological clock’ (which is also a thing), but let’s not worry too much about the technical detail.
Your circadian rhythm is influenced by various factors, including light exposure, physical activity, and social cues. The circadian rhythm is important for both men and women, but it plays a particularly critical role in women's health and, at a time like perimenopause/ menopause when things already seem stacked against you, I want you to understand how you can make the system work for you so that you can have the health you want.
This is why the circadian rhythm is so important for women's health
Hormone regulation: Circadian rhythms influences the production of hormones like melatonin, cortisol, and oestrogen, which are important for reproductive health, mood regulation, and metabolism. Disruptions in the circadian rhythm can lead to hormonal imbalances that can negatively affect menstrual cycles, fertility, and how you experience your menopause.
Sleep quality: Women are more likely than men to experience sleep problems, like insomnia and sleep apnoea. Sad but true. Anyone who’s ever experienced a poor night’s sleep can testify this can negatively impact your physical and mental health. Because circadian rhythms help to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, any disruptions in this cycle can lead to a rubbish night’s sleep and low energy in the day.
Mood regulation: Women are also more likely than men to experience mood disorders like depression and anxiety. The circadian rhythms help to regulate the production of feelgood neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which play a role in mood regulation. Disruptions in the circadian rhythm can lead to imbalances in these neurotransmitters, which can contribute to mood disorders. No one wants that.
Metabolism: The circadian rhythms also regulates metabolism, which is important for staying at your happy weight (and losing some, if needed) and preventing chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. All these things can easily get a bit off in midlife and it paves the road for ill health further down the line.
You guessed it, disruptions in the circadian rhythm are lurking behind these metabolic disturbances, which can contribute to weight gain and all manner of other health problems.
Perhaps the best-known circadian rhythm is the sleep-wake cycle. During the day, the daylight sends your body hormonal signals to be alert. As daylight fades and the night starts to draw in, the body makes different hormones to encourage you to get sleepy and wind down for the night.
The circadian rhythm & sleep
If you are you a woman struggling to get a good night's sleep during menopause, this bit is for you. Many women experience sleep disruptions during this time of life, but there's a simple solution that could help: morning sunlight.
Your body's natural sleep-wake cycle is influenced by sunlight. When you expose yourself to sunlight in the morning, your body produces less melatonin during the day, which can help regulate your sleep at night.
So, make it a habit to get outside and soak up some morning sun. Take a walk, do some yoga, or simply sit outside with your morning coffee. Even just 10-15 minutes of exposure to sunlight can make a big difference. And it’s a great way to get some additional steps in!
In addition to getting morning sunlight, there are other steps you can take to improve your sleep during menopause. You probably know these already, and I have several blogs on my website relating to this if you look at the ‘sleep’ category. In short, avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening, establish a consistent bedtime routine, and make sure your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark.
Keep in mind, you want dark later in the day since this has your body make more melatonin. That means you'll be seeking out the opposite - ways to dim lights and bring the comfort of darkness to your life.
The circadian rhythm & weight gain
The circadian rhythm can impact on your weight, too. Here’s how:
Disrupted sleep: Disruptions in the circadian rhythm can lead to poor sleep quality or insomnia, which can negatively impact metabolism and weight regulation. Studies have shown that women who report poor sleep quality or sleep disruptions are more likely to gain weight over time. This may be because sleep deprivation can lead to imbalances in hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism, such as leptin and ghrelin. And we all know that, after a terrible sleep, we want to all the treat foods.
Night-time eating: The circadian rhythm can also impact when you feel hungry and when you feel full. People who experience disruptions in their circadian rhythm are more likely to feel hungry at night or to experience cravings for treat foods. Studies have shown that people who eat more calories at night (let’s be fair, it’s nearly always the crisps or chocolate rather than radishes and carrots) are more likely to gain weight over time.
Altered metabolism: The circadian rhythm also plays a role in regulating metabolism, and disruptions in this rhythm can lead to metabolic disturbances that contribute to weight gain. For example, people who experience circadian disruptions may have lower resting metabolic rates, meaning they burn fewer calories at rest. This is on top of any other metabolic issues that might be lurking as a woman in perimenopause/ menopause when blood sugar imbalance and/ or insulin resistance can rear its head.
The circadian rhythm & hot flushes
Hot flushes (sometimes also called hot flashes) are a common symptom of menopause, characterised by sudden and intense feelings of heat, sweating, and flushing of the skin. If you know, you know. The exact mechanisms behind hot flushes are not fully understood, but it is believed that changes in hormonal levels, particularly a decrease in oestrogen in relation to other hormones coupled with blood sugar dysregulation, play a significant role.
Research has shown that the circadian rhythm can also influence hot flushes in menopause. In particular, studies have found that hot flushes tend to occur more frequently at night, and women who experience more severe hot flushes often have disrupted sleep patterns. This suggests that the circadian rhythm and sleep-wake cycle may play a role in regulating hot flushes.
One possible explanation for this is that the body's internal clock influences the production and release of hormones that regulate body temperature, such as melatonin and cortisol. Disruptions to the circadian rhythm can lead to imbalances in these hormones, which may contribute to the occurrence and severity of hot flushes. Although not discussed, it’s probably also worth noting that stress can lead to blood sugar dysregulation so you’re losing the battle on multiple fronts!
Stress, circadian rhythms & your night-time routine
Stress relief and sleep are MASSIVELY IMPORTANT. Sorry to be all shouty with those capital letters but it’s the only way I can be sure of your attention. I’m all for finding the easy ways to do it and so I’m going to suggest this for you today: create a good evening routine. It’s not the only way to get the lifestyle work into your life but it is definitely worth considering.
Right now, I’m going to persuade you that it’s a good idea, and you can scroll further for tips on how to get it into your life. Women over 40 benefit from having a good night-time routine for several reasons:
Hormonal changes. As women reach menopause, their bodies go through a number of hormonal changes which can affect their sleep patterns. You probs discovered this already. Having a consistent bedtime routine can help regulate these changes and promote better sleep.
Stress management. Many women in midlife have busy and demanding lives, with responsibilities such as work, family, and maybe caring for older parents. A good night-time routine can help them relax and unwind after a long day, reducing stress and promoting better sleep.
Overall health and well-being. Sleep is essential for overall health and well-being, and a good night-time routine can help ensure that women over 40 get the quality sleep they need. We both know everything looks like sh1t when you haven’t slept well.
Anti-aging benefits. Forget about that expensive face cream, sleep is critical for the body to repair and rejuvenate. A good night's sleep can help reduce wrinkles, fine lines, dark circles, and puffiness around the eyes. Really but those people at that big cosmetics company want you to spend £50 on a cream that won’t work nearly as well.
Mental health. A good night-time routine can help reduce anxiety, depression, and feelings of stress. It can help to improve moods, increase feelings of well-being and help promote a sense of calm and relaxation.
Healthy weight management. Sleep plays a crucial role in regulating appetite and metabolism. With adequate rest, our body is better able to control hunger and maintain a healthy weight. When you haven’t slept, you are literally forced to choose the high carb, sugary foods that will give you instant energy and this is the exact opposite of what your midlife body (or any body, in fact) really needs!
Improved memory & cognitive function. A good night's sleep can help improve memory and cognitive function, so you can wake up feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the day. If you’re in perimenopause, consider this essential groundwork for not getting lost in the middle of sentences. Brain fog is a diet thing but every little bit helps, right?
Here's how busy women create a good evening routine:
Plan ahead. There are very few things in life that are best done spontaneously. If you want to ensure something gets done, you need to plan for it to happen and you need to think about what kinds of things you want to do and what would work in your actual life. Always start with doing the thinking work.
Prioritise self-care. Make sure that you include time for self-care activities such as guided meditation (I love the Daily Calm from the Calm app for 10 minutes of just switching off), or reading in your evening routine. Or whatever else you have decided would be good – like cracking open the jade roller I keep hearing so much about.
Be realistic. Don't over schedule yourself or set unrealistic goals. Be mindful of how much time you actually have and plan accordingly.
Get organised: Make sure that you have everything you need for the next day ready to go before you go to bed. This can include laying out your clothes, packing your lunch, or preparing your work bag. This ensures you don’t undo all that good night time work with a frantic morning that ramps up your stress for the day before you’ve even left the house!
Make time for family and friends: Don't neglect your relationships. Make time to spend with loved ones and connect with them. The mindset of being in a place when you are genuinely enjoying the interaction is what you want to aim for, not that place of duty where it feels like a chore. Just be with that for a bit. I cannot be the only one who has every felt like there are surviving dutiful encounters.
Set an end time for screens. Establish a cut-off time for screens such as phones, tablets and TV's. This will help you relax and fall asleep easier. I hear from clients all the time that it’s the way they like to switch off at night but screens and specifically being on social media activates daytime hormones like dopamine, which directly work against you getting to sleep.
Create a bedtime routine. Establishing a bedtime routine such as reading, journaling, or meditating can help signal to your body that it's time to sleep. I’d love to be the person who sits in bed with face cream on rolling my face with the quartz roller I bought myself as a gift but it’s only happened once. But spraying my pillow with the Neom lavender mist I was gifted is easy and lovely.
Be flexible. Remember that things don't always go according to plan and be willing to adapt and adjust your routine as needed. It is what it is, and it isn’t what it isn’t.
Take a morning walk or at least get outside in the daylight first thing.
Create a good night-time routine, whatever that looks like for you.
Creating the framework for a life you love is an important part of my work as a practitioner. If your life doesn’t work for you, you’re tired and stressed out, you won’t even feel like doing the food work. If you know that things are a bit wonky and you need help with any aspect of your midlife health, please let me know. I offer all prospective clients a FREE MINI CONSULTATION to get clear - out loud and with someone who is prepared to listen in a way that most medical professionals don't’ – on what you want for your health and your life, hit reply to this email and we’ll set something up. My personal view is that sometimes our symptoms are really a wake-up call; your body’s request that you do something differently.
PS, if you didn’t already get my Self-Care Fix mini programme – the one you can listen to on podcast and has some great downloadable resources and such about creating routines that work for you, get it here - https://www.foodfabulous.co.uk/self-care-fix