Insomnia and sleeping problems concept as a human eye ball with red veins in a bed with a pillow as a symbol of the health risks of nighttime sleepnessness disorder.

Many clients who turn to me for spiritual healing arrive complaining of problems with weight gain and insomnia. What they do not realize is that the two are related, and often the underlying cause is a hormonal imbalance. Our bodies produce a number of different hormones, and when they are deficient or overly abundant, the resultant imbalance has a huge impact on our health and well-being.

A number of people, particularly those who are aging or are frequently exposed to environmental toxins, find they are restless and snacking throughout the night. This is not surprising as some hormonal imbalances inhibit the ability to sleep, and others create cravings for carbohydrates. If it seems that your life has turned upside down, you are now often eating instead of sleeping at night, and you are suffering from uncontrollable weight gain, it is highly likely that a hormonal imbalance is to blame.

Disruptions in Your Sleep Cycle

Your circadian rhythm is a biological system that keeps you running on a 24-hour clock. It tells your body when it is time to sleep and when to wake. When the circadian rhythm is interrupted or otherwise interfered with, such in the case of jet lag, it can lead to sleeping problems. Typically, your body can quickly adjust to these interruptions, so your circadian cycle returns to normal. In the event of a hormone imbalance, however, things tend to remain chaotic.

One of the hormones most associated with sleep is melatonin. This hormone, secreted by the pineal gland, helps to control your sleeping and waking cycles. The presence of light affects its production, so as evening starts to set in, your body will produce more melatonin. The levels in your body will begin to diminish in the early hours of the morning. If your production of melatonin is imbalanced, as may happen to those who work night shifts or sleep with the lights or TV on, you may find it difficult to fall asleep when you go to bed.

Courtney Ratzburg of Vanderbilt University wrote about several studies that have examined the effects of melatonin on sleep. These studies arrived at the unanimous conclusion that increasing levels of melatonin through supplements taken before bedtime enabled participants of all ages to fall asleep more quickly and easily and to stay asleep longer.

Melatonin is not the only sleep-regulating hormone that affects our sleep. A reduction in other hormones can cause us problems as we age. Joyce Walsleben, RN, Ph.D. explains, “During the course of perimenopause through menopause, a woman’s ovaries gradually decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone, a sleep-promoting hormone. The shifting ratios of hormones can be an unsettling process, sometimes contributing to the inability to fall asleep.” Age-related hormonal reductions affect men as well; for example, waning production of testosterone has been associated with the onset of sleep apnea, which results in poor sleep quality.

Cravings for Carbohydrates

Believe it or not, your constant craving for carbohydrates may also have its underlying cause rooted in a hormone imbalance. This sort of constant craving seems to affect women more than men, and with good reason. As mentioned above, women produce estrogen, but as they age, the amount of estrogen tends to fluctuate and diminish.

Serotonin is responsible for maintaining your mood. Low serotonin levels cause depression. What most people do not realize is that estrogen affects serotonin levels. Janet E. Shepherd of Medscape reports that, “In women of reproductive age, serum estradiol levels have been shown to correlate positively with blood levels of serotonin. Researchers have also demonstrated that blood serotonin is decreased in postmenopausal women and that ERT [estrogen replacement therapy] raises it to premenopausal levels.”

Do you know what else raises serotonin levels? Simple carbohydrates—though only temporarily. That is why many women with an estrogen imbalance have sugar cravings. According to the editors at BioMetrix, “Sugar or simple carbohydrates help release a burst of serotonin, so you feel good for a little while. But almost as quickly, you ‘crash’ and return to your low serotonin state, and the cycle starts all over again.” Therefore, it makes sense that those who are suffering from an imbalance of estrogen would find themselves constantly craving and gorging themselves with carbohydrates.

Problems with Fat Burning

Lack of sleep and carbohydrate cravings can conspire to cause weight gain. This can be quite disheartening when you realize that your efforts to lose this excess weight are not effective because, unfortunately, yet another side effect of many types of hormonal imbalances is difficulty with fat burning.

Also, if you are experiencing a frequent lack of sleep, this may make you feel stressed out during the day. Stress, regrettably, increases your body’s production of cortisol, yet another of your body’s hormones; chronic stress is likely to lead to cortisol imbalance. A report by Christine A. Maglione-Garves, Len Kravitz, Ph.D., and Suzanne Schneider, Ph.D. of the University of New Mexico explains that because excess cortisol causes your body to store triglycerides as mature fat cells deep under the muscle of your abdomen (visceral fat), this extra belly fat is particularly difficult to lose.

You Don’t Have to Live with a Hormone Imbalance

While hormonal imbalances are common and natural consequences of aging, there is no reason you should accept them. You can work with a holistic health coach who can prescribe a drug-free regimen of meditation, lifestyle and dietary changes, and spiritual healing that can help you bring more balance to your life.