Have you ever found yourself tossing and turning at night, trying your hardest to get to sleep but simply not being able to? If so, you're not alone.
Research shows that nearly two-thirds of women experience sleep complaints as they age into their late 40s and early 50s. The leading cause? Menopause.
Menopause represents the time in a woman's life when menstruation stops and there is a drop in the levels of certain hormones — leading to symptoms like hot flushes, heart palpitations, night sweats and sleep disturbances.
But why exactly does menopause make it harder to get a good night's rest? And what can you do to ease its symptoms?
In this article we will be talking you through exactly that, highlighting some of the best ways to get back to the land of nod while going through menopause.
Understanding menopause and sleep
Sleeping problems are a common symptom of menopause, with many women aged between 45 and 55 years old having difficulties falling and staying asleep. The reason for this is down to fluctuating hormone levels in the body.
When you go through menopause, your body goes through several significant hormonal changes, decreasing the amount of hormones it normally makes. This includes hormones like oestrogen, progesterone, melatonin and testosterone.
At the same time, there is often an increased level of certain other hormones, including luteinising hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). These can then be used by doctors to tell whether you've started menopause or not.
Menopause takes place in three stages. The first part of the process is known as perimenopause — the time leading up to menopause when these hormonal changes start to take place, but you are still having menstrual periods. You reach menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months. Postmenopause is used to describe the time after someone has gone through menopause.
The link between menopause symptoms and sleep problems
There are several reasons why going through menopause can impact your sleeping pattern.
The gradual declining levels of oestrogen and progesterone from perimenopause to postmenopause can impact the body's ability to regulate temperature. This can lead to symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats, which make it much harder to get a good night’s sleep.
Declining levels of these hormones can also have a huge impact on other areas of life. This is because they are involved in several important bodily processes that can affect mood, appetite, sex drive and breathing, all of which can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep.
Certain medications that are prescribed to treat other age-related menopausal symptoms, such as joint pain, body aches or bladder problems, may also interfere with your sleep pattern and make it difficult for you to stay asleep.
Common sleep disturbances during menopause
Sleep disturbances are a common symptom of menopause, but they don’t always affect women in the same way. Certain types of sleep disturbances, for example, may impact some women earlier or later than others.
Some of the most common sleep disturbances associated with menopause will often include:
- Hot flushes – a sudden sensation of heat in the face that spreads all over the body and is often accompanied by sweating.
- Night sweats – these are hot flushes that take place at night time when you’re in bed. You may sweat so much that you wake up drenched in sweat or your night clothes and bedding are soaking.
- Insomnia – a long-term difficulty falling or staying asleep that can increase feelings of anxiety, irritability and fatigue, while also causing headaches.
- Snoring and sleep apnoea – breathing-related sleep disorders that increase in risk by 4% each year after the perimenopause has started.
- Restless leg syndrome – an involuntary leg movement that can disrupt your sleeping pattern.
- Depression and anxiety – low mood can impact your desire to want to sleep and your ability to get to sleep.
Strategies for better sleep during menopause
Due to the impact menopause can have on your sleeping pattern, implementing certain strategies is important when trying to encourage a good night’s sleep. Here are some good ideas to help you get started.
Establish a good sleep routine
Getting into a good routine before bedtime is a great way to not only improve the quality of your sleep but also the overall quality of your life.
Going to bed and waking up at a consistent time each day helps regulate your body's internal clock, providing your body with a wide range of benefits such as an improved mood and a lower likelihood of getting sick.
Create a sleep-friendly environment
Another great way to encourage a good night's sleep is by making the environment you sleep in as comfortable as possible.
Keep your bedroom cool, quiet and dark and make sure your mattress, pillows and bedding can provide adequate support as your body goes through its various changes.
You may want to consider investing in sleep-related products like earplugs, eye masks, lavender oil or a white noise machine to help block out any external disturbances.
Manage hot flushes and night sweats
Managing sleep-related menopausal symptoms like hot flushes and night sweats could greatly enhance your level of sleep quality.
Using moisture-wicking bedding and light, breathable pyjamas, for example, will help you stay cooler throughout the night and make you feel more comfortable.
Likewise, avoiding certain trigger foods before bed, like caffeine, alcohol or spicy food, will help prevent hot flushes from happening so regularly.
Keep fit, active and healthy
Maintaining a good diet and an active lifestyle can also contribute hugely to the quality of sleep you get during menopause. Here are some healthy lifestyle choices you can make to encourage a good night's kip:
- Exercise regularly (but not during the two hours before bed)
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Eat sleep-friendly foods (such as soy-based products, cherries, walnuts and chamomile tea)
- Avoid smoking
- Avoid excessive alcohol or caffeine intake
- Avoid spicy or acidic foods
- Manage your stress level
- Practice mindfulness techniques (such as meditation and yoga)
Seeking professional help for menopause sleep problems
If your sleep issues persist despite making changes to your bedtime routine and day-to-day life, consult your doctor. They will be able to talk through your personal medical history and any specific symptoms you're having, before recommending any appropriate treatment options.
Common treatments for menopause-related sleep disturbances include:
- Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) – this type of treatment is particularly common during menopause. It is used to increase levels of oestrogen and progesterone in the body, with research showing that it can relieve symptoms like hot flushes, insomnia and low mood. However, HRT can pose a serious risk for women with a history of blood clots or heart-related issues, so it's important to seek advice from your doctor.
- Antidepressants – certain low-dose antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) can help relieve menopausal symptoms, such as hot flushes.
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – working with a trained therapist during CBT can help identify any thoughts or behaviours that negatively impact your sleep. In changing these behaviours, research shows that CBT leads to a reduction in menopausal symptoms like low mood, anxiety and insomnia.
- Melatonin – taking low doses of melatonin as an over-the-counter medication can help you get to sleep more quickly.
Book a consultation at The McIndoe Centre
Sleep disturbances are a common experience during menopause, but there are a number of strategies and options available to relieve them.
By maintaining a healthy lifestyle, seeking tailored treatment advice from your doctor and making sure your sleeping environment is as comfortable as possible, you will give yourself the best possible chance of getting a good night's rest.
For further women’s health support or advice on improving your sleep during menopause, book a consultation with us today. Our expert team at The McIndoe Centre are highly experienced and always available to answer any questions or queries you might have.
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