What You Need to Know About Hormone Balance and Insomnia
Sleep — it’s a mysterious phenomenon that scientists are still trying to figure out. In today’s fast-paced world, we know we need more of it and we also know that there is a range of things that can interfere with a good night’s sleep.
But you may not be aware that your hormones play a significant role in how much sleep you get and the quality of your sleep.
Insomnia and hormone balance are intricately linked. Without the right amount (and type) of hormones, your sleep will be negatively impacted. Women are especially affected by the changes in hormones due to their menstrual cycles, childbirth, and menopause.
So how do you get your hormones and sleep back on track? There are natural ways to deal with insomnia caused by hormone imbalance. In this article, we’re going to look at 10 strategies to help you achieve the best sleep, night after night.
What’s Hormone Balance & Why It’s Important
Teenagers “raging with hormones” is one of the reasons why they tend to be moody, rebellious, and angry. Feeling cranky and irritable right before your period is a sign of “your hormones going crazy.” And a soon-to-be mother’s yo-yo-ing hormones can send her crying one moment and laughing the next.
These are pretty common sentiments. But you may not have realized the significance of these statements — until now.
You see, hormones are not just responsible for changes in our mood, our energy, our emotions, or our sexual functions. Hormones are chemicals secreted by certain glands in the body that control almost every aspect of our bodily functions.
Your metabolism? It relies on the thyroid gland’s hormones and the pancreas producing insulin.
Your stress response? It relies on the adrenal glands secreting the hormones cortisol, adrenaline, and a few others.
Your sensation of feeling hungry? That would be your gut at work, secreting ghrelin, which stimulates appetite.
Hormones send messages to specific organs and parts of every anatomical system, from the nervous system to the digestive system, and more. In fact, right now, you have more than 50 hormones making the rounds in your body, delivering those messages, and switching on (or turning off) key processes.
However, certain internal and external factors can cause hormones to become imbalanced. Too much or too little secreted could trigger symptoms of hormone imbalance such as:
- Sudden weight gain or weight loss
- Insomnia or difficulty falling asleep
- Extreme sensitivity to heat or cold
- Excessive sweating, especially at night
- Changes in heart rate
- Sudden and intense patches of acne
- Dry skin, brittle nails, or hair loss
- Anxiety or other mood changes
- Changes in libido
- Breast tenderness
Now, you should know that hormonal changes and fluctuations are not the same as hormone imbalances. As you age and your body’s needs change, your hormone levels will naturally increase or decrease to adjust for various phases in life.
However, a hormone imbalance is a sustained surplus or deficit that shouldn’t be happening and produces the above-mentioned adverse effects.
To be truly sure about which hormones are out of balance, and to what extent, you’ll need to check in with a healthcare professional. Your primary care physician or even a functional medicine specialist can perform more conclusive tests that can check your hormone levels more effectively.
Hormone Balance and Insomnia
Insomnia is more than just “trouble falling asleep.” It’s a specific sleep disorder that can come around in short, “acute” bursts or can continue for longer, “chronic” periods. During bouts of insomnia, you’ll toss and turn, be unable to fall asleep right away, and you’ll likely wake up through the night.
Insomnia is caused by both primary and secondary sources.
For example, stress is a primary source triggering insomnia. That’s why so many people who have adrenal fatigue experience insomnia as a symptom. The adrenals are responsible for producing cortisol, and elevated levels of this hormone mean you’ll have consistent trouble falling asleep.
Secondary insomnia comes from other sources like:
- Mental health issues like depression and anxiety
- Caffeine, tobacco, or alcohol use
- Endocrine issues, especially hyperthyroidism
- Some medications for colds, allergies, or prescription medications
Clearly, endocrine disorders, which involve hormonal imbalances, will trigger insomnia. However, the relationship between hormone balance and insomnia goes even further than a simple diagnosis of “endocrine issues.”
Even without an identifiable issue like an over or underactive thyroid, insomnia can still be a cause and an effect of hormone imbalances in the body. For example, a woman’s progesterone levels dip dramatically in the days leading to a period. This typically means difficulty falling asleep.
However, if you have irregular periods, key hormones like estrogen and progesterone are further out of balance. These inconsistencies will cause sudden, acute phases of insomnia that may extend because the body’s estrogen levels are also imbalanced.
The bottom line is that the connection between insomnia and hormone balance is undeniable. If your body has a deficit of key hormones related to sleep, such as insulin, estrogen, melatonin, or thyroxine, you’ll also experience insomnia.
And if you have insomnia, the source could very well be a hormonal imbalance.
How to Balance Your Hormones and Get Rid of Insomnia
Fortunately, there are quite a few steps you can take to help heal hormonal imbalances — and, that too, in natural ways that support body-mind wellness.
Let’s zoom in on 10 methods to deal with insomnia and balance hormones.
#1. Take Supplements
Start with supplements as this is the easiest “micro” change you can make to your daily routine.
Supplements you take should help you achieve two things: First, they should “supplement” your body with what it doesn’t already have or what it needs to avoid deficiencies.
And, secondly, these supplements should help turn the tides on hormonal imbalances and their symptoms.
Here are a few noteworthy supplements to specifically heal insomnia and hormone balance:
- Namastay In Bed — Specifically created with a blend of herbs known to promote better, longer, and deeper sleep, Namastay in Bed should be your first go-to supplement. All-natural herb ingredients like chamomile, valerian root, magnolia bark, and melatonin provide better sleep through promoting body relaxation, calmness, and, ultimately, drowsiness.
- Melatonin — This supplement is specifically known as the sleep hormone. You can take it in pill form to balance out any melatonin deficiencies currently causing insomnia and hormone imbalance. In the right amounts, melatonin works with cortisol to regulate your body’s circadian rhythms. It helps you relax and feel drowsy, leading to sleep.
- Go With the Flow — This supplement is specifically designed to address hormonal imbalances, especially those related to PMS, menopause, and even physical symptoms of PCOS, such as bloating and acne. It includes a proven collection of curated, high-quality herbs such as Maca root, chasteberry, black cohosh root, and Dong Quai root. These effective combinations are some of the best hormone balance herbs.
- Magnesium — This is a crucial mineral for sleep. Fortunately, you can get it from many natural sources such as avocados, dark chocolate, legumes, and tofu. Magnesium increases GABA levels, which encourages relaxation and sleep in the body.
- Be Grounded — Stress, anxiousness, and nighttime overthinking are frequent obstacles to a good night’s sleep. The “Be Grounded” formula includes highly bioavailable herbs including lavender and lemon balm proven to calm your body and prepare the mind for sleep. Rather than a daily supplement, Be Grounded only needs to be taken when you experience stress and anxiety. It works within 30-60 minutes of consumption.
#2. Exercise Enough (and Don’t Overdo It!)
Exercise is one of those true-blue “fixes” for almost every imbalance in life. So why wouldn’t it help insomnia and hormone balance?
First off, exercise is proven to promote healthier, longer sleep cycles. As long as you workout early in the day (anytime before the evening), your body will be fatigued enough at the end of the day to naturally fall asleep faster and easier.
Secondly, exercise can help to balance hormones like cortisol, insulin, thyroid hormones, and your sex hormones in a natural and sustainable way.
One study found that women who worked out for 12 weeks experienced all the benefits of exercise — such as better balance, flexibility, and muscle strength — but also regained optimal estrogen levels.
The women who participated in this study only “worked out” for three days a week, for 60 minutes per session, doing light dance, yoga, and some Pilates. This tells us that there’s absolutely no need to overdo it.
In fact, too much exercise can lead to muscle fatigue, amenorrhea (which is the loss of your period), and imbalanced cortisol levels, which then bring on insomnia once more. So which exercises are your friends? We recommend these ones.
#3. Eat Enough Protein
The word “protein” means “of the utmost importance” in Greek, so that should give you some indication about how crucial these molecules are.
They’re the workhorses of life. Even though only 20% of our body is made up of protein, they exist in every cell, give the body structure, and are responsible for a dizzying number of functions.
A common recommendation you might hear from a functional medical professional is to eat more protein. A lack of protein can lead to everything from lethargy and fatigue to skin degeneration, lowered immunity, and bone fractures in more extreme cases.
And it’s true — filling your plate (and body) with protein-rich foods keeps you less hungry and more energized. These include:
- Pasture-raised chicken or turkey
- Grass-fed beef, veal, lamb, or pork
- Legumes like navy beans, red kidney beans, and chickpeas
- Nuts and seeds like organic, raw peanut butter, almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and flaxseeds (Note: these are also a fantastic source of healthy fats that your brain cells use to more efficiently create crucial neurotransmitters like serotonin, which help you get ready for restful sleep)
- Eggs and seafood
These healthy forms of protein decrease the hunger hormone, ghrelin, which, in turn, also helps to keep your blood sugar levels steady.
Now, there’s another highly effective type of protein that’s currently lacking in American diets — except for people in the know. Doctors may prescribe it to those suffering from anemia, which is caused by low iron levels in the body.
It’s the use of organ meats for hormone balance.
Yes, consuming just one meal a week featuring organ meals like liver, kidney, heart, and even brain can pack a significant positive punch for insomnia and hormone balance.
- Liver meats — Contain five times the amount of B12, which is important because a B12 deficiency can spark an estrogen imbalance, leading to ovulation irregularities and even PCOS
- Kidney meats — Are an important source of selenium, which has neuroprotective properties and is the key to the proper functioning of thyroid hormones
- Heart meats — Contain a high amount of collagen, which offset cortisol imbalances and regulates melatonin production (important for sleep, as we know), insulin, and progesterone
The nutrient density of these organs is unparalleled, so dig up a few delicious recipes and you’ll be able to heal insomnia and hormone balance.
#4. Avoid Sugar and Refined Carbs
If you’ve done some research into how nutrition affects your hormones, you might already be a believer in the harmful effects of sugar on the body.
However, you may not know how sugar can lead to insomnia and hormone imbalance.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates are both responsible for hijacking your body’s insulin and cortisol levels. These include common, everyday foods like:
- White flour
- White bread
- White flour pasta
- Breakfast cereals
Over and above this, these less-nutrient-dense foods can worsen conditions you’re already experiencing.
For example, research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that older, postmenopausal women who ate the highest amount of refined carbohydrates were 11% more likely to experience insomnia. They also had a 16% higher risk of developing insomnia during the next three years.
#5. Stress Less — Or Smarter
Chronic stress leads to a whole host of issues — including chronic fatigue and chronic insomnia. The very word chronic should tell you that the effects of stress are cumulative. They increase over time and persist for longer periods if you don’t address it.
While some amount of stress in our lives may be unavoidable, there is a lot you can do to stress “smarter.” Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal finds that, as long as we learn how to embrace and deal with stress more effectively, it can be a force for good.
A few strategies to stressing “smarter” include:
- Incorporating a natural adaptogen designed for daily stress-fighting, relaxation, Ashwagandha, into your routine.
- Having a set of morning and evening routines designed to amp you up for the day, and calm you down before bed, that are non-negotiable. This can include a set of 10 sit-ups in the morning and a relaxing, warm bath in the evening.
- Starting the day with mindful meditation. If you find yourself falling asleep in the middle of a morning meditation because of insomnia the night before, simply keep your eyes open. Repeat a “mantra” or a word so you have something to focus on and remain awake.
- Consider using mindful-based CBT exercises for a more resilient stress response.
#6. Address Emotional Eating
Insomnia and hormone imbalances are both vicious cycles. Once you get trapped in them, you need a real “intervention” or a change to truly step out of and end the cycle of deficit or imbalance.
Essentially, you feel groggy, fatigued, depressed, anxious, lethargic, or any number of other emotions when dealing with hormonal imbalances. This might lead you to crave and consume overly sweet or salty snacks.
Worse yet, you do these at times when you really shouldn’t be eating -- such as the late-night or 2 a.m. snack that turns into a meal at a time when you should be sleeping instead of digesting.
Now, studies show that some forms of emotional eating are not entirely “psychological.” They also come with physiological triggers. Fluctuations in ovarian hormones (estrogen and progesterone) can manifest themselves as up-and-down swings in emotions, which then leads to emotional overeating.
So if you’re trying to address insomnia and hormone balance, take a look at your eating habits — not just what you’re eating, but when, why, and how.
#7. Go Natural and Non-Toxic
There’s no doubt about it — study after study shows us, pretty conclusively, that there are hormone “disruptors” present in many household cleaning products, personal care, and beauty products like deodorant and makeup foundation, laundry detergents, and even our mattresses.
You can point to these offenders when looking for sources of your insomnia and hormone imbalances:
- PFAS (like those used for coating non-stick pans)
- Triclosan (often found in liquid body wash)
Thankfully, there is a growing movement dedicated to developing natural, non-toxic personal care and beauty products.
Brands like Beautycounter (beauty), Method (household cleaning), and Native (deodorant) provide ethical, sustainable, and non-toxic alternatives to personal care and cleaning that won’t wreak havoc on your hormones.
#8. Yep, Plastic is the Worst
Speaking of hormone disruptors leading to insomnia and hormone imbalance, plastic is the absolute worst offender. Not only do these non-biodegradable, man-made materials harm our ocean, furry, and winged friends, but they also release chemicals that mimic estrogen in your body.
So instead of plastic, opt for products made from natural materials like wood or bamboo, stainless steel, and natural fibers like wool and cotton.
#9. Commit to a Sleep Routine
Good sleep hygiene means committing to the same sleep routine every day. Regardless of whether it’s the weekday or weekend, waking up and going to bed at the same time every day helps your body regulate itself in a healthier way.
It receives implicit signals about when to decrease cortisol, release melatonin and other key hormones that aid in the transition from wakefulness to restful, uninterrupted sleep.
A pre-bed routine allows you to unwind and relax, but it can also help you to track your body’s unique, personal preferences for a truly optimized sleep schedule.
All you have to do is commit.
#10. Use the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique
Yoga-lovers will know the 4-7-8 breathing technique better as “pranayama.” The power of this technique lies in the way that the distribution of breaths is clinically proven to relax and calm you, turning on the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
Unlike the sympathetic nervous system, the PNS conserves energy by:
- Slowing heart rate
- Increasing intestinal activity (which is why the 4-7-8 technique works wonders for balancing digestion hormones)
- Regulating gland activity (specifically for stress reduction and relaxation)
- Relaxing sphincter muscles (which often clench due to stress)
You can practice the 4-7-8 method right at home, either in a seated position or while lying down.
- Begin by exhaling through parted lips and make a whooshing noise as you do so.
- Now, close your mouth and inhale through your nose while counting to four.
- Hold this breath for seven seconds.
- As you exhale, make that whooshing sound again, letting out your breath slowly for a total exhalation of eight seconds.
- Repeat this process at least four times. Eventually, you’ll be able to hit the ideal eight cycles per session.
- It’s time to relax and fall asleep!
Reversing insomnia and hormone imbalance will likely take time and it’s best if you rely on multiple strategies used at the same time.
So, instead of only addressing your diet, add a few more of these methods to totally overhaul your health. For example, you could then also incorporate hormone balance supplements, set a sleep routine, and deal with stress better.
The point is to work with your body’s natural rhythms because it already knows what it’s doing — it just needs some consistent support from you!