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Why Sleep is So Elusive in Midlife with Dr. Leigha Saunders ND

insomnia menopause midlifewomen perimenopause sleep womenshealth

If you're one of the estimated 40-60% of women who experience sleep changes in perimenopause or menopause, you're going to want to tune in to this episode! Our guide for this episode is the incredible Dr. Leigha Saunders, a sleep expert and founder of The Sleep Fix. Together will discover practical tips for reclaiming those peaceful nights.


Navigating sleep challenges during perimenopause can feel like deciphering a complex puzzle. Dr. Leigha Saunders breaks it down for us, making the hormonal intricacies and their impact on our sleep crystal clear.

Ever wondered why your sleep feels off, even without the classic night sweats? Dr. Saunders sheds light on the subtle temperature changes and the starring role played by estrogen. It's not just about the sweat; it's about the hormonal dance that affects our mood and sleep quality.

We also talk about how critical it is to expose ourselves to morning sunlight every day. Dr. Saunders drops a knowledge bomb about melatonin production and introduces practical tips like blue light-blocking glasses. Who knew sunlight could be our secret weapon against sleep woes?

You'll also be happy to know we spend some time debunking the myth that late-night snacks automatically lead to weight gain. We talk about the surprising link between nutrition, blood sugar, and sleep. Spoiler alert: Carbs aren't the enemy; they might actually be the sleep superhero you've been missing!

And if you're one of many women who fall asleep easily but regularly wake up at 3 a.m. we address this challenge too. Dr. Saunders helps us distinguish between sleep onset insomnia and its midnight counterpart. The prescription? A bedtime routine that signals your body to switch from hustle mode to rest mode. Stress is no stranger, and neither is cortisol. Dr. Saunders connects the dots between stress, cortisol, and early awakenings. Recognizing stressors and embracing relaxation become our weapons against this sneaky sleep saboteur.

Dr. Saunders offers us hope for being able to reclaim our nights, making a compelling case for the huge impact of quality sleep on our entire well-being. It's not just a luxury; it's a necessity for a thriving midlife.

You can learn more about Dr. Leigha and her online program at Use the code MIDLIFEFEAST to save 10%.


Jenn Huber 0:00
Hey there quick question for you. Are you making a New Year's resolution? I want you to stop right there. instead. Why don't you join me for an entire month of free non diet resolution support in January. I'm giving you the chance to take my midlife and menopause on dieters guide to Intuitive Eating course, for free along with lots of support to keep you out of the diet cycle this January. You can grab the link sign up in my show notes. Hope to see you.

Jenn Huber 0:31
Hi, and welcome to the midlife feast the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Selena Huber. Come to my table. Listen and learn from me. Trusted guests, experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife.

Jenn Huber 0:54
This week's episode is all about sleep. As women in midlife, no sleep can be a very valuable commodity in our lives because it often changes as we get closer to perimenopause. And as we navigate through that transition, it can become unreliable, unpredictable, and not restful. But it's also one of the most important things that we can do to support not just our physical health, but our mental health and our emotional health. And I know that you're going to love this conversation that I had with Dr. Leah Saunders, who's a naturopathic doctor in Ontario and creator of the sleep Fix program.

I love how Leah approaches sleep from both a hormonal perspective about what's going on, as our estrogen and progesterone levels change the role of stress and cortisol. But we also talk about some of the really practical things like what we eat and how we relax and how we move about our day. And I think that you'll learn a lot about sleep, even if sleep hasn't become an issue for you yet. Hi, Leo, welcome to the midlife feast.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 2:08
Thanks so much for having me, Jen.

Jenn Huber 2:10
So I know that this episode is going to be very well received because people have been asking for a dedicated sleep episode since I started the podcast last fall. And I'm really excited to bring you on because not only are you a naturopathic doctor, like myself, but you really specialize and focus on sleep. And so as a I'm a midlife woman, you are not but as a man like women, I have gone through my own fair share of sleep challenges, as I'll call them. And it's definitely you know, top three things that I see in my practice. So navigate us to what is happening in perimenopause, let's start there, that brings about these seemingly unavoidable changes to how we sleep. This is

Understanding Midlife Sleep Challenges

Dr. Leigha Saunders 3:02
my favorite topic. I'm so excited that your listeners are asking for this info because I just want people to know this stuff. So thanks for such a great question. I'm sure you've mentioned it and talked about it many times before. There's so many things happening at that time in perimenopause where, you know, women are reaching maybe the peak of their careers, their kids are getting older, maybe their parents are getting a bit older and need assisted care or more, more attention. And so there's such a combination of factors on top of all the hormonal changes that are happening that really can present as a disrupted nervous system and, and, and changes in hormones that ultimately influence our ability to fall and stay asleep.

And like you mentioned, I'm not I'm not in perimenopause, I'm not in midlife. But my experience was sleep really started as a new mom, which is a common story, right? You know, and when you're pregnant, everyone says to you, like, oh, enjoy your sleep now and get it while you can kind of thing. And, of course, I knew my sleep would be disrupted. But I didn't anticipate how much of a profound effect sleep deprivation would have on my mental and physical health. And I started to go back to work around three or four months postpartum, and managing my own clinic, my own practice adjusting to life as new mom, like still wanting to have time for myself and time with my husband, all those things. And at one point, I was just really struggling with how fatigued I felt. I felt like I really couldn't show up as myself as my best self during the day, and let alone take care of others. And somebody noticed this and said, like, are you okay? You don't really seem like yourself. And I was like, No, I'm really struggling.

And I said, like, it's just not normal to feel this way and try to be functioning. And her response to me was like, Well, other women do it. And it was so well intended. Like she really wanted me to feel encouraged and empowered to be like, you can figure this out. You can do it. But it was It was a pivotal moment for me because it made me realize how many women have some experience, maybe it's most part of them, maybe it's a loss of a loved one, maybe it's an illness or a traumatic event or perimenopause.

And then from that point on, they struggle with sleep. And they think it's absolutely something that they have to continue to live with, or there's something that they can do about it, because sleep just comes naturally. So we should be able to do it. And if we cannot, we're just a bad sleeper. And that's what really made me dive down into the rabbit hole of all things sleep to then start fixing my own sleep problems.

Because once my babies started sleeping through the night, I would lie there awake, and there's nothing worse when your kid is sleeping, and you want to be asleep, and you can't. And I just really started to reflect on my clinical practice and the people I was working with and how women who would get better were often good sleepers and the people who I would often see back in my office time and time again, or whose seemingly unrelated concerns would progress or not get better or take longer to resolve.

Oh, they're also the bad sleepers. Isn't that interesting? And so then connecting all the dots, and it was just such a great time because it was also when Matthew Walker had published his book called Why We sleep. I binged on a couple of podcast episodes, he was on with fellow Canadian, Peter Atea. He's a medical doctor. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, this is the best. And as a naturopathic doctor, I had such an appreciation for this mind body connection. And there were so much evidence to support how much sleep influences every single aspect of our health, and then how there are so many things we can do from a lifestyle, dietary, mental, emotional, mental health perspective, to support sleep, and like this is beautiful. Why is nobody to talk to you about this? I love

Jenn Huber 6:50
that I and I think you really write that in for many women. And I was one of them. For many women, there's this kind of perfect storm of life. Whether that includes children or not. I don't mean young children are not responsibilities, work, and hormones.

So I've shared on the podcast before that I went into perimenopause somewhere around 36 or 37. My oldest at that point was, you know, six, and my youngest two were four. So I had three kids under the age of six. And so when I was going to my, you know, health care people and saying, I'm really tired, I'm not sleeping, I'm really irritable. It was foul, it's normal, you've got a lot going on. And again, super well intended, everyone was just trying to reassure me that there wasn't something wrong with me. But it wasn't helpful. It wasn't until those dots were connected, that we started to realize, oh, this is actually all of that stuff can be true. But this is an and statement.

And it's being made a whole lot worse by perimenopause. And you know, I think that for sleep, especially, there often is a tendency to just wait it out to try, you know, Oh, it'll just sort itself out. I just need to have one good night, I just need to break the cycle, without maybe understanding that this might be a cycle that you're in for eight to 10 years because these hormone changes can take a decade to kind of settle out right, the ups and downs of perimenopause usually aren't limited to a year or two of someone's life.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 8:24
Right? Exactly. And I pose that question to a group I facilitate my we call ourselves asleep team. And I'm like, what is it that makes people wait so long? And we really agreed, and I don't think this is you need to just sleep. But we tend to get to that point wait to get to the point of desperation, right? Of it's bad enough. Now I have to do something about it. And so for me when I realized the trajectory that I was on of, okay, hey, I'm three, four or five months postpartum, really struggling. This is obviously impacting my ability to show up in the day, if I don't fix this now. I'm going to feel the way so many of my patients tell me they feel and that's like, after 510 15 years, they come in and say I've taken care of everyone else. I'm exhausted.

I don't feel like myself. I don't know what brings me joy. I can't sleep at night. I'm tired during the day. And I'm like, I'm not doing that. I'm not doing that. And so when I when I got into the research and and wanted to unpack all of these pieces, I started to recognize and realize and share, like women are twice as likely over their lifetime to experience a sleep disturbance or insomnia compared to men. So that starts to tell us okay, maybe hormones don't cause it, but there's certainly a correlation there. And

Jenn Huber 9:43
then when we have male partners can attest to that. I mean, my husband is in his early 50s. And to this day, I can count on one hand the number of times that man has not fallen asleep in literally three seconds. There's times when I've been very angry about that. But I believe that statistic because yeah, you're that story all the time. It's a totally,

Cortisol: The Sleep Disruptor

Dr. Leigha Saunders 10:08
yeah, we talked a lot about sleep divorce in that group recently. And that's what a couple of women chose, because it's like, I want to punch my husband in the face when he's sleeping so easily. And I'm lying there awake, and it's making me frustrated. And then we talked about how that generates cortisol, that certainly doesn't help facilitate sleep. So it's one of many examples of how we, we actually have way more control over our sleep than we think. But there's these time points like that statistic of women being twice as likely. And then we'll also see around the onset of menopause. So two years plus or minus, before your last menstrual cycle.

And after we see a really sharp increase in the incidence and reporting of sleep disturbances for women. And that can look like trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep or waking up too early. That's a really common complaint and post menopause because our body clocks will actually shift a little bit. And this is when you know, you can probably think of like your grandmother who just wakes up at the crack of dawn but wants to go to bed really early to

Jenn Huber 11:14
about hormones. So yeah, just to kind of backup the bus a little bit. So in perimenopause, you know, I call it the changing hormone soup, in that the amount of estrogen that you have every month is on a roller coaster, it may not be the same two months in a row for years on end, it's generally in decline. But it's not a linear path. But progesterone, which is the other side of that hormonal coin, is in a little bit more of a steady decline.

And so you know, we're in this swimming in this hormone soup of unpredictable estrogen levels, declining progesterone levels, may also have some cortisol floating around, thanks to all of the other stressors. So can you tell us a little bit about how those hormone changes affect our brain and sleep? And also maybe how, you know, for women who you know, choose or want to use hormone replacement therapy, how that might change their sleep?

Tackling Night Sweats and Temperature Changes

Dr. Leigha Saunders 12:07
Mm hmm. Yeah, great question. So estrogen primarily is impacting sleep in mostly one of two ways. So most familiar for for women is going to be our temperature regulation. So as we start to see these fluctuating levels, we'll experience temperature fluctuations. And so that can look like hot flashes during the day, or maybe night sweats over the course of the night. And that can be a primary reason where you're waking up. And so that temperature fluctuation is then causing you to wake up at night, you toss off the covers, and then maybe that wakes you up to such an extent where you then start thinking about all of these other things that are on your mind. And that generates cortisol and a whole snowball effect. And I love to

Jenn Huber 12:49
just add, if I can jump in, as someone who you know, is still in that stage of things, it's not just the night sweats. So you could be waking up because of this temperature dysregulation. Without the stereotypical like, drenched bedsheets. And you know, like what you're wearing and having to change, I often will wake up knowing that my body temperature is warmer, because my heart rate is up, I do have that throwing the blankets off, but there's no sweat involved. So I think it's important that we, you know, just remind people that those temperature changes could be happening, even if you're not sweating. Yeah.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 13:23
And it's very subtle to in terms of if we're measuring, if we were to measure your body temperature differences, like we're talking points of degrees, right. And so when we understand why so we need our body temperature, our core body temperature to lower to initiate and maintain sleep. And this is why it's easier for you to fall asleep in a cooler room and environment compared to you know, if you think about hot summer night where you don't have AC and the fan isn't blowing on you, or whatever, it's harder to sleep and you're tossing and turning because your core body temperature can't get down and stay down. It's also why it's impossible to fall asleep with cold hands and cold feet, because most of your blood flow is at your core.

So if we warm up your hands and feet, you can actually then dissipate some of that core body heat to lower your temperature. So yeah, like you'll pay attention the next time it's like if you're hungry, or if your hands and colder or hands and feet are cold, you won't be able to fall asleep. So estrogen is really involved in that temperature regulation. And like you said, because it's fluctuating and all over the place, it's the it's that it's that change in the withdrawal of the hormone that will trigger those temperature differences. It's not necessarily like Oh, once you reach this particular level of estrogen, you have these symptoms. It's the production and take away over time that makes us respond to that, that change in temperature. And estrogen also makes us feel really good and happy. Sexy, and so when we have those fluctuations, it can have a very real impact on our mood at a at a level of neurotransmitters and chemical hormones like serotonin, so when we have more estrogen, we'll make more serotonin, which is our primary feel good hormone and serotonin ultimately gets connected and converted to melatonin.

And so all of these pathways interplay. And again, it's when we see that withdrawal and changing levels of like, oh, well, I slept fine last week, but then this week, and women can even if you're listening in our earlier and maybe not like, am I perimenopause, I don't know, I'm still cycling, you might start to notice this in your menstrual cycle, and that premenstrual or luteal phase, where women commonly will come into my practice and say, like every now and then for a couple nights, I just can't sleep.

I don't know why it just happens. I'm like, it's probably when you're premenstrual, and they're like, I don't think so. So I tell them to track and they come back and they're like, it's when I'm premenstrual, you're magic. And like, it's so predictable. Because again, it's that withdrawal of those hormone levels that change our core body temperature regulation, change how sensitive we are to caffeine and alcohol, which will both obviously impact our sleep, change our mood, maybe how much we've even exercised and moved in a day, which is going to influence how physically tired we are to invite deep sleep. All of these pieces connect. And that's where I love bringing it together for people to see like the this is how you actually have impact over your sleep by making those choices that seem completely unrelated. But I always say your ability to fall asleep at night starts with what you do when you wake up.

Hello, Morning Sunlight!

Jenn Huber 16:28
But yes, yes, that is a really, really powerful thought. Yeah. And, and so things like, you know, early morning sunlight, you know, even if it's just standing at a window, like I totally get it if you're in Canada, and it's you know, minus a bajillion degrees, you're not going to go out, you know, with the sun, but even just getting that early morning light or using, you know, like an sad lamp, anything that's just going to start to like, trigger that part of your brain to say, Oh, I'm awake. Now. I should get tired in 12 to 14 hours.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 17:02
Yeah, I learned a really neat fact, recently, on my podcast, I had some guests on who they they make and distribute blue light blocking glasses. And I learned that most of our melatonin is actually made in the morning. And typically that sunrise light, which is more of the red spectrum, is what stimulates melatonin production. And then we store it over the course of the day. And then we actually release it. At night, when we're exposed to increasing darkness I had I was like, I have no idea. So yeah, and then you can understand how people's circadian rhythm and internal body clocks have been so disrupted because, you know, what do we do we wake up and first thing we'd probably do is pick up our phone or, or open our computer, and it's this rich blue light, that may not actually help us make melatonin in the morning, especially release it at night if we're on our phones before bed or having to work late or things like that.

So that's a bit of a side tangent, but it is yeah. And so then the other side, like you said, is progesterone. So we only make progesterone if we're ovulating. And as we progress through perimenopause, we don't ovulate as frequently we like we said, recently at a workshop we we hung out together at your ovaries get really, really less enthusiastic as we get older, and so they're not responding with the same, the same signals and the same hormones and the same level of production of those hormones and things like that.

So we'll see an overall steadily declining level of progesterone. And, again, it's not the level of that hormone, but it's the withdrawal. And we'll see that more, again, primarily when you're menstruating and that luteal phase and that week before your period. When that estrogen and progesterone are declining, that's when we become a bit more or can become a bit more symptomatic with things like PMS.

And then through perimenopause, progesterone also plays a role in body temperature regulation, and has a very calming effect on the brain. And we'll see that if we jump into the topic of hormone replacement therapy. Progesterone on its own in the oral form has been shown and is approved for treating sleep disturbances in perimenopause and menopause because it alone without the use of estrogen can effectively treat vasomotor symptoms, which is hot flashes during the day night sweats or like you said those temperature changes. And when we take progesterone by mouth one of the byproducts of its metabolism as it passes through the liver.

It's actually a natural sedative. So it helps us feel calm. It causes us to feel sleepy, which is why we have to take it at night. And that invites natural sleep compared to sleeping medications and sedative drugs which might be indicated at certain times but they really sit DEET is and if we were to put you in a sleep lab, you're not getting the same normal sleep architecture, your sleep cycles aren't the same, you're not getting the same benefit of that deep restorative sleep. Yeah,

Getting to Sleep vs. Staying Asleep

Jenn Huber 20:11
quality over quantity for sure women like that. So let's talk a little bit about the difference between difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Because I usually tell women in my practice that they can happen at the same time, but we're often treating them differently because they often have different triggers, so to speak. So tell us a little bit about the difference what's happening there.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 20:35
A lot of people will confuse sleep onset insomnia, which is trouble falling asleep with what I like to call light leg or misaligned circadian rhythm or there's a if you're if you identify as more of a night owl, there's actually a medical term called delayed fee, sleep wake disorder. And so basically, if we're go, go go all day, we haven't thought about our sleep from the time we've woken up. If we've had, say caffeine later in the day or screen time, especially if we haven't really need time to unwind and decompress. We're not ready for sleep, right?

Unless we physically exhausted ourselves maybe. And so that can show up as the first time you're undistracted in a day. The first thing you have quiet, undisturbed time is when your head is on the pillow. And if you haven't given yourself an opportunity to decompress, and filter thoughts and actually check in with yourself, that's a massive bottleneck effect and probably battle that you're going to face at that time. And that's when women will say like, my, my brain is so busy, I just can't turn it off my monkey mind. And it's often not a problem with you.

It's just our Ds are so overscheduled. And we're overwhelmed and maybe under supported. We just need to insert breaks during the day to help regulate our blood sugar by actually I'm a big fan of reclaiming the lunch break, taking time to eat, and, and moving in the day. And like you said, getting outside if we can and that ultimately helps us just be instead of do yeah, all day. And these are the things that really make a difference. And it seems very simple. But it's true. Because if you feel connected to something other than that doing process at the end of the day, your nervous system can settle more efficiently. Yeah,

Nutrition and the Sleep Connection

Jenn Huber 22:26
that's so important, isn't it? Can we just like sidetrack a little bit? Because I want to touch a little bit on the role of nutrition, and especially meal timing, and kind of, you know, cotton macronutrient composition, especially around carbohydrates, because yeah, what are your thoughts on that? Hmm, I'll just share that.

So in my practice, you know, because I'm often working with women who are trying to change their relationship with food and are maybe coming out of you know, patterns of restricted eating or you know, kind of following strict meal plans, maybe under eating or whatever it is. Often reintroducing carbohydrates, especially with their evening meal, is like, It's the secret sauce of really helping them to just feel like they're not going to bed in fight or flight. So is that something that you see and have come across as well, totally.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 23:25
And I love this conversation too, because it's not something that a lot of people talk about. And we have that preconceived notion of like, well, if I have a bedtime snack, I'm going to gain weight. Right, I'm going to, and really, if we under if we unpack it, and understand, it's like, if you get better sleep, there's actually a really cool study. I'm sure you saw it recently, in JAMA, so a very reputable medical journal. And they they took a group of people divided it in half, gave one group more instructions on sleep, hygiene and education and said, We want you to increase your sleep time. And on average, the group that increased our sleep time got 1.2 hours more, and the other group didn't do anything.

And they slept the normal in which we're typically getting on average, less than seven hours of sleep, which is where most people are. And that's actually the definition of sleep deprivation. So we don't think of sleeping between midnight and 6am as being sleep deprived, right, but that's actually by definition, you're never sleeping 100% of the time you're in bed. And so the people who got more sleep, naturally consumed it. On average, it was like 270 calories less per day, simply because their appetite regulation and hormones like leptin and ghrelin were more regulated. And when we're deprived from sleep, our inhibitions are lowered or willpower is or we want comforting foods, which there's nothing wrong with that if it happens once in a while. But if it's an ongoing basis, and the long term thing, you're so sleep deprived because you're stressed and it's harder for you to make those appropriate choices that fill your body

Jenn Huber 24:59
And also there's, you know, a bit of a survival thing that happens that when our brain is tired, it wants it has an increased interest in eating food that will give it quick fuel. And so there have been studies that have looked at the types of foods that people crave when they're tired. And it is those quick sources of energy. Yeah, you know, trying to understand the like, what's, what's happening and why so that you can actually, you know, make changes that are supporting that root cause, right. But yeah, I think there's so much fear. Obviously, I talk a lot about this, you know, in all the work that I do, but there's so much food, fear and so much, especially around carbohydrates, just misinformation about the impact on health. And so many people will say, I don't understand why I'm not sleeping, I'm doing all the right things. I'm eating low carb, I'm not having, I'm not having any carbs after 3pm. I'm not, it's like, that's why you're why like it's a stress there is. So there's research that tells us that low carb diets often result in higher serum levels of cortisol.

Hormones, Sleep, and Stress in Perimenopause

Dr. Leigha Saunders 26:03
Yeah, thank you for sharing that, because it's what I was gonna say. So if we're looking at it from the bird's eye view, and are either under fueling from a total caloric perspective, or aren't getting enough of one macronutrient, in particular, so maybe you're not getting enough protein, fat or carbohydrates, we have a tendency to go more into that fight or flight state, which will then release cortisol as a protective mechanism to bring our blood sugar back up, right. And that really does relate back to the sleep, maintenance insomnia. So maybe you're so exhausted and done by the end of the day and fall asleep, fine.

But then you find yourself waking up at 3am 317. So often, women are like, I know exactly what time it's going to be. And our bodies are so well regulated. They're great at forming habits, and it's so smart. And so if we're under fueling all day, or if we're eating too close to bedtime that can interfere, I can chat on that after. But if we're under feeling or maybe not getting enough carbohydrates, our blood sugar dips, and it's fairly relatable to times that people wake up. So maybe before we were talking about hot flashes, you're like, Well, I don't wake up with hot flashes. But I always wake up at that same time, it's really interesting to take a peek at your nutritional intake over the course of the day. And I've managed to get one person to actually purchase a continuous glucose monitor. And we're still trying to figure out all the patterns, but so far we have identified and she does eat lower carb.

And we have identified like her wake ups in the night or when her blood sugar dips below a certain point. And so now we're doing the relearning and teaching and playing around with things. Okay, we can add back in more carbohydrates, especially later in the day to sustain that blood sugar overnight. But also carbohydrates, again, help us make serotonin that feel good hormone, again, that gets converted to melatonin. And so there's all of these pieces that interrelate and it's, it's entirely fascinating to me. And if we can start pinpointing those things like how nice would that be, if you feel your body appropriately, now you have more energy, more mental clarity through the day, you don't get hangry you're performing better at work, and you're sleeping better at night, which then becomes such a positive cycle, because you're making food choices in alignment with your goals, and like I said, are functioning more effectively in your personal and professional life.

Jenn Huber 28:33
That's awesome. So let's circle back to staying asleep because that is I would say by far the more common complaint I guess, around sleep or the one that women in perimenopause, especially just feel really frustrated by because they can't figure it out. They may have figured out the falling asleep. They're nice and calm and relaxed. And they have beautiful sleep hygiene. And they have this wonderful routine. And they think that they you know have won the lottery. And then they wake up at three o'clock in the morning. So we've talked about hot flashes and night sweats and temperature changes and blood sugar. What are some of the other things that could be happening that could be waking someone up? That might be more related to kind of this age and stage? Maybe not just the hormone?

Dr. Leigha Saunders 29:19
Yeah, I mean, one thing I would add in is that melatonin peaks at release in our blood between two and 4am On average, and so we often associate melatonin with that hormone that helps us fall asleep and initiate sleep, which is involved in that whole timing process. But it could also be that maybe we haven't made enough melatonin if we're especially in front of blue light all day. And if we're, I always ask the question like, What do you do for an hour to do before bed and people kind of chuckle and laugh and say like, I know I shouldn't but I'm on my phone or whatever. And so that can really be impacting your release of melatonin and production over the course of the night too. And so I think that one piece is important to recognize as well.

It doesn't necessarily mean we jump to taking melatonin because the evidence really says it's best for people who are jet lagged or who have that delayed type sleep disorder where you're truly are a night owl and need to reset your body clock. But maybe it means we do need to change and shift some of those things that are happening in your bedtime routine. And I do bring it back to cortisol often because maybe your blood sugar is dropping, and cortisol is being released, that shouldn't actually wake you up, because that's a normal process. But if you're buzzing all day, with really high stress levels, and again, are on that go, go go without any breaks or time and, and a chance and opportunity to check in with yourself. When you wake up, then at night, because of any other reason you're gonna have to pee.

Again, if that's the only time you're undistracted in a day like of course, your mind is going to say, Okay, this is it, I got her. I'm going to bring to the surface all these things that you haven't thought about and you haven't decompressed or maybe you haven't expressed how you're feeling and, and you know, you're going to have a you need to have a difficult conversation and all of those things. And so, where I've really tried to encourage even myself and patients to focus is like if we can sometimes detach from that a little bit emotionally and recognize for like, okay, you know what, for me and my body, when I am stressed, I will wake up at 430 and struggle to get back to sleep. And I know, it's just like, my cortisol is, is kicking in early. I just look at it for what it is and check in with myself.

And instead of blaming and getting upset and like, you know, going down the shame and guilt, it's like, okay, yeah, I've been working longer because of this or that, or I'm feeling like this is on my mind. So what can I do about it? How can I start supporting my nervous system? What do I need to do in the day to help recalibrate and reset that and it looks different for everybody

Jenn Huber 32:03
that are sympathetic, you know, before bed in the evening, I often I describe it, you know, functionally is, if you are if your body thinks that it's running away from a tiger, even if it's so exhausted, that it falls asleep for a few hours, the minute you start to come out of sleep, it's going to remember that there's a tiger. And so you have to convince it before you go to bed, that the tiger isn't there. And, you know, sometimes that is, you know, as as easy, I say easy, you know, kind of, I'm not trying to be flippant about it as doing those basic things of disengaging from screen time, or doing some yin yoga, restorative yoga, stretching, reading in bed, instead of scrolling on your phone, like those are all things that can reassure our brain that don't have to be in this fight or flight stage. Right? Yeah, totally. Yeah. And I think we forget that we forget how let you know, we really can get in that parasympathetic mode with the basics, we don't have to use a hammer with it.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 33:10
And I always bring it back to the analogy of children, right? When little kids are still napping, they skip their nap or they don't have a long enough nap. The it shows up in their behavior as trouble emotionally regulating, they're cranky, they throw tantrums, they won't eat properly, you know, and we recognize it and call it and we're like, Oh, you didn't nap today. Or you know, and didn't get a good night's sleep or is up five times in the night or whatever. And, and we also wouldn't, you know, throw our iPad in bed with our three year old and expect it to take expect to take it away and have him just roll over and go to sleep. Like that's again, so basic and logical. But to bring it back to that pure fact. It's it's just so true and obvious to people when you break it down now and you're like, you're right. So as adults, I think we just think we've outgrown it because we know how to manipulate our behavior or internalize emotion.

And so if we're sleep deprived, we want to throw tantrums to what shows up as anxiety or picking a fight with our spouse or feeling really irritable like you mentioned. And so we need to build in those things too and a bedtime routine. And I one of the one of the women in one of my more recent groups said that specifically like I you know, I thought of my bedtime routine is like washing my face and brushing my teeth. But I'm realizing I need to block out more time for it and do the reading and a guided meditation and that really helps me settle in.

Jenn Huber 34:42
Oh my goodness, I feel like this episode has been so full of so many nuggets of information that even I learned so many things so I can't thank you enough for talking about this because it really is the secret sauce of life is getting it good night's sleep. Totally. So what do you think? I mean, the answer might be obvious. But what are you missing ingredient? Yeah,

Dr. Leigha Saunders 35:06
I know, I have to say sleep, right. Like, and I was thinking about this question ahead of time. And I really not just sleep because that's obvious. I think maybe it's more about the, the need to reclaim it and prioritize it. I think that's actually closer to the heart of it. Because we can easily convince ourselves that if we sacrifice our sleep, we'll get more done in a day, we'll be a better employee will succeed in our business, we'll be a better mom or partner, whatever. But really, we will be our best during the day if we are on a restored and rested brain.

Jenn Huber 35:45
Absolutely. So I know that people will want to know where they can learn more from you because you are a wealth of sleep information. So how can people work with you?

Dr. Leigha Saunders 35:56
Yeah, so you can check out the sleep That is where my online program lives that people from anywhere can can take it is really designed for women who want to understand what is impacting their sleep and how to put strategy in place when we talk about blood sugar control, and cortisol and hormones and using HRT for sleep, something we didn't even get into today. And really, it's this brainchild of mine as I went through my own sleep struggles and realized, Okay, here's what I need to put into place. And here's what is working and when I started sharing it with my patients and like this doesn't have to be covered in one on one, like people can access this foundational knowledge and really start making important changes to get their sleep back on track and start really understanding what's impacting it because you have so much more sleep control over your sleep than you think.

So if you're somebody who says like I've just always been a bad sleeper, I challenge you. And we put together a 10% coupon called midlife feast so your listeners can save 10% on that program you can move through at your own pace. And otherwise I'm on Instagram at Dr. Leah Saunders and DE JANEIRO link up in the in the show notes and I share lots of sleep tips and memes and events and webinars and master classes and all that good stuff there. If you want to come hang out and follow along

Jenn Huber 37:15
Yes, your Instagram is a great source of information. So thank you so much and all of that information will be in the show notes. And and hopefully someone will get a better night's sleep after learning and listening to this. Thanks so much, Leah.

Dr. Leigha Saunders 37:29
Thanks, Jen.

Jenn Huber 37:32
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of the midlife feast. If you're looking for help with menopause nutrition or just want to figure out how to make peace with food and midlife. Check the show notes so you can learn about how to work with me and sign up for one of my group programs. And just a reminder that beyond the scale, my most popular group program will be starting up again in May and registration opens mid March. So make sure to get on the waiting list if you'd like to be the first to hear about it.


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