- Susan Horgan
5 key reasons your energy is on the floor in perimenopause
And what you can do to pick yourself up and put some pep back in your step
Are you feeling like you’re constantly exhausted? Drained to the point where you could lie down on the street and fall asleep?
Do you suddenly hit the wall, like someone has turned your power supply down to standby without telling you?
I hear you, and you’re in the right place. Read on to get a whistle-stop tour through the main reasons why your energy takes a nosedive during perimenopause and what you can do to jumpstart your energy levels and give you back your mojo.
Perimenopause can sometimes feel like Nature is having a good ole laugh at your expense. You’re right smack bang in the middle of the busiest period of your life and, BOOM, your hormones decide it’s time to board a rollercoaster.
So now, not only are you raising children, working (in or out of the home), caring for sick or elderly parents, doing Mum’s taxi, trying to eat healthy, get some exercise and have some sort of social life, you’re also trying to navigate the ups and downs of perimenopause symptoms.
Low energy or fatigue is unbelievably common and sometimes you don’t even associate it with anything hormonal, at least not initially anyway. I mean, with so much going on and stress levels through the roof half the time, it’s easy to write it off as “normal” and accept it as part of how hectic life is for all of us these days. How often do you find yourself nodding off shortly after dinner and telling yourself that it’s just because of work deadlines or the kids being so little?
But consistently low energy can really suck the joy out of life and leave you feeling pretty miserable. It can make daily life feel like you’re wading knee-deep through honey – everything feeling ten times harder than it needs to. It’s not just the physical sensation of having no energy either – it can come with lots of other side-effects too, including:
Feelings of overwhelm or emotional stress
Lack of motivation
Reduced zest for life
Frequent hunger or food cravings
Before we move on, it’s important to note that ongoing fatigue can be a symptom of other medical conditions, so it’s always worthwhile chatting to your GP to make sure other possible causes are ruled out before pinning it all on your hormones.
Now let’s get stuck in and figure out what’s causing this energy crisis.
Naturally, the changes in your hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) are a contributing factor. Their fluctuations affect your thyroid and cortisol levels (which can directly impact energy levels), as well as impacting how you utilise the food you eat to produce energy. But you don’t have much control over them (unfortunately). Fear not - there are other factors that you can control that can affect your energy and that’s where we’re going to focus our attention next.
1. Are you getting a good night’s sleep?
I know, I know. It sounds like the most obvious thing in the world. But sometimes when you’re exhausted, it’s hard to see through the fog and recognise even the most basic things that might help you to feel better. And in another cruel twist, having trouble getting a good night’s sleep is a really common symptom of perimenopause. When you don’t sleep, everything suffers – your appetite, food choices, brain function, mood and, of course, your energy levels.
Once you hit your 40s, progesterone starts to decline and this, as well as fluctuating oestrogen levels, start to affect the parts of your brain that control sleep.
It can be harder to get to sleep, or it may be that you wake frequently during the night. Needing to go to the loo or other perimenopause symptoms like night sweats or restless legs can also disturb your sleep. All this adds up to you waking up feeling as tired as you did when your head hit the pillow the night before. Caffeine and sugar become your best friends to try to help give you some sort of boost to get you through to the evening when you can crawl back under the covers.
There are plenty of things you can do to help improve your sleep, which should ultimately help you feel more refreshed and energetic. Things like:
Getting out in daylight early in the day
Keeping caffeine for before 2pm
Reducing your screen time in the evenings
Adding some movement into your day
Using supplements like magnesium or herbal teas like lemon balm or chamomile
Including something relaxing in your evening routine to calm the nervous system before trying to sleep
I’ve written a blog about sleep issues during perimenopause, so if you would like to read a little more on the topic, you can check it out here.
2. Food as fuel
Let’s take it back to basics for a moment. It’s easy to get stuck down rabbit holes of what to eat for this and what not to eat for that. But first and foremost, food provides fuel for your body. What you stick in your gob, gets broken down into fats, proteins and carbohydrates and used to produce energy. Food also provides vitamins and minerals that are needed to make the energy production process work. This is where the quality of what you eat is key.
Of course, nutrition is never as simple as that (or else why would you need me). Getting the balance right between the carbs, protein and fats that you eat is a vital part of the puzzle. When you eat a diet that is high in added sugars or highly-processed carbohydrates, this can trigger huge spikes in your blood sugar.
What goes up, must come down and when your blood sugars come crashing down after the high, you can experience symptoms like fatigue, brain fog and irritability.
Not a massive problem as a once-off. However, if your blood sugar is on this rollercoaster over a long period of time, you can develop something called insulin resistance, meaning your body is not as effective at regulating your sugars or producing energy from the carbohydrates that you eat, leaving you more susceptible to ongoing fatigue. A woman's risk of insulin resistance increases during the menopause transition anyway as we lose the beneficial effect that oestrogen has on our blood sugar regulation. High blood sugars also trigger the stress response, increasing cortisol and contributing to tiredness, overwhelm and mood swings.
By balancing the carbs you eat with a good source of protein, healthy fats and fibre (especially from vegetables), you slow the release of the sugar from carbohydrates. This means less spikes in your blood sugar, more consistent energy levels and more even moods throughout the day.
So what do you need to be eating to improve your energy? Try these:
Load your meals with lots of brightly coloured vegetables and some fruits
Pair your carbohydrates with protein-rich foods
Swap over to high-fibre, complex carbohydrates in place of more processed, white options
Reduce added sugars as much as possible (although we all need a little chocolate in our lives sometimes)
3. Movement to kick start your engine
Getting up and doing any sort of exercise can feel like the last thing on Earth you need or want to do when you’re feeling exhausted. But actually, it might be exactly what you need. Exercise triggers the release of endorphins and neurotransmitters like serotonin that send feel good messages to the brain, improving your mood and energy levels.
It also helps to improve sleep quality and quantity and, as I’ve already mentioned, when you sleep well, you’ll have more energy and get-up-and-go. Combining some movement with getting outdoors in the daylight is a great double whammy, helping to reset your circadian rhythm, giving your sleep an extra boost. Exercise, especially resistance exercise, helps to improve insulin sensitivity too. This helps the body to keep your blood sugars under control and use the food you eat to produce energy more efficiently.
Movement doesn’t have to mean a hard slog.
You don’t have to be running 10k, doing 5 HIIT classes a week (which might actually be worse for you than better), or cycling for hours on end. It can be as simple as getting out for a walk for 30 minutes, 5 days a week. It can be dancing, pilates, swimming – whatever floats your boat. The most important thing is finding something you enjoy and are willing to build a habit around. As long as it gets you up and about, that’s good enough.
4. So much to do, so little energy?
Whoever said “Life begins at 40” has some explaining to do! Your 40s is definitely not the decade of peace and tranquillity from what I can see. “Busy” tends to be the standard response when someone asks you how you are. Like I’ve mentioned already – you’ve got so many plates spinning it’s hard to know where to start to get a little downtime.
Stress, in all its forms, plays havoc with your hormones. Not just with oestrogen and progesterone, but with your thyroid function and your blood sugar regulation too. When these things are out of whack (technical term), it can leave your energy on the floor, not to mention your mood and ability to focus too. Losing progesterone leaves you more susceptible to feeling more overwhelmed and less able to cope with stress in the same way you used to. As a woman, you always push your own needs to the back of the line, almost feeling guilty if you do something nice for yourself. But when you’re constantly doing and giving to others and never fill back up your own cup, it can leave you feeling drained.
Perimenopause is a time of huge change - both physically and mentally - and almost forces you to take a step back and look at things slightly differently. It’s a real opportunity for you to build habits that will serve you for the rest of your life.
And these things don’t have to be time-consuming. Any small amount of time you can carve out during the day for yourself will do you more good than you can imagine – even if it’s just 5 minutes.
It’s like any new habit – start small, make it easy in the beginning and then you can build on it. What you do in these moments is totally up to you and what makes you feel good. You could try:
Mindfulness or meditation
Have a hot bath
Getting out in nature – have your morning cuppa in the garden
Phoning a friend or meeting someone for a cuppa
It can feel like a bit of a luxury to take a bit of time out, just for yourself and so it tends to be something that gets bumped down to page 10 of the priority list. Even if you do manage to squeeze in a quick bath or a coffee with a friend, you feel guilty about it and spend the rest of the day, trying to “catch up” on everything you should have got done while you were M.I.A.
But here’s your friendly reminder - you deserve the time to care for yourself as much as you care for others. You're loving and compassionate to those around you – now is the time to start offering yourself some of the same love and compassion. It's not just you who benefits, but everyone around you. When you sleep well, have more energy and are in a better mood, everyone feels better and you're more fun to be around.
And life should be more fun, right?
5. Are you drinking enough water?
This is another “no sh*t Sherlock” moment. We all know we need to drink plenty of water. So why do so many of us find it so hard. I’m no angel here either – this is one I have to really work at. But when you’re dehydrated, the body has to work harder just to do normal things which can contribute to low energy. Not only that, but dehydration can leave you feeling sluggish and affect your brain, making it harder for you to concentrate. Plus, you need water to help flush toxins and used up hormones out of your body efficiently – higher toxic load and hormone levels can also make it harder for your body to produce energy.
The key thing for me when trying to up my water intake, is trying to make it simple and obvious so that I can’t forget. Things like:
keeping a pint glass beside your bed so that you can drink it as soon as you get up
investing in a stainless steel bottle that you could have on your desk - if it’s in front of you, it can help to remind you to drink it more.
use the bottle so that you always have water with you. In the car, in your bag, at the gym etc.
when you are pottering around the house, fill a pint glass with water and leave it on the counter. This is one I use myself.
to help build the habit, set regular alarms to remind you to take a few sips. But ultimately you’d like to get to a stage where it’s just something you do without thinking.
No matter how exhausted you feel right now, it’s important to remember that it will pass and there are lots of things you can do to help yourself (and others) to get through it in the best way possible. Today, we’ve looked at:
Working on our sleep
Making a few tweaks to the food we eat
Adding in some more movement
Drinking more water
Building in time for self-care and relaxation
Hopefully you’ll take a couple of ideas away from this that you can try and see if they make a difference to your energy levels over the coming weeks.
If you’d like some support and accountability to get started and really boost your energy, click the button below and book a free Clarity Call with me. We’ll talk through the symptoms you’re struggling with most and figure out which option might work best for us to work together 1:1.