Sleep Problems & Menopause

Problems with sleep, or changes to your sleeping patterns are common during menopause. Losing sleep can have a huge impact on your wellbeing. Our medical team explains why sleep is affected by menopause, and provides some advice to help you deal with it.

Menopause is an unpredictable time for your body. There is no guarantee as to how your hormones will change, and how this will make you feel. One of the most common symptoms of menopause is sleep disturbance.

If you notice yourself waking up more during the night, or that you don’t feel rested when you wake, this is a sign that your sleep patterns have taken a hit.

Sleep problems are a common, but sometimes a less discussed symptom that arrives with menopause. Remember - we need at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Studies have suggested that 61% of menopausal women struggle to get sufficient rest.  Lack of sleep has far reaching consequences - it can worsen other symptoms like low mood, fatigue, anxiety and stress. Sleep also plays an important part in the immune function, metabolism, memory, learning and disease susceptibility. Lack of sleep can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Why does insomnia happen during your menopause?

During menopause, your sleep can change for a number of different reasons. This will be different for everyone, however, your other menopausal symptoms may be a driving force behind your disturbed sleep.

Night sweats create unavoidable and incredibly uncomfortable changes in your body temperature. Waking up drenched in sweat is definitely not ideal for your sleep. You may find yourself waking up unexpectedly in the middle of the night and needing to cool down immediately.

The hormone progesterone plays a part in sleep quality, and so a lack of this hormone may be causing some of the problems.

Disordered sleeping

With your reproductive hormones declining, you may be more susceptible to disorders such as sleep apnoea. This is even more likely if you are overweight, or have type 2 diabetes. This is a sleeping disorder where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts, causing you to wake up unexpectedly multiple times throughout the night. If you have a partner, they might notice that you stop breathing in your sleep, or you may wake gasping for breath. This interferes with your type of sleep, and is associated with daytime tiredness and memory problems.

Sleep apnoea is often overlooked during the menopause as many women will attribute their lack of sleep to external factors, such as increased stress levels, or simply busy days at work or home.

Is insomnia common during menopause?

Insomnia is very common during menopause. You are definitely not the only one losing out on much needed sleep. Infact, sleep quality is one of the most important symptoms women tell us they want to resolve. Unfortunately, it can be one of the hardest symptoms to fix. This is because it is often caused by external factors, such as other menopausal symptoms or things going on in your everyday life.

A lack of sleep may take the biggest toll on you, however. You cannot ignore the importance of a good night's rest. Seek out ways to mend your sleep schedule if you notice it begin to change.

How can you help your insomnia?

Avoid chemicals that affect sleep — such as caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine.  Alcohol may help you get to sleep, but after a few hours it acts as a stimulant, which will reduce the quality of sleep. Stick to recommended limits in the day, and avoid drinking within 3 hours of bedtime.

Exercise — Regular exercise throughout the day can help tire your body out. This may help you sleep a bit better through the night. Try not to exercise too close to your bedtime, however, as it can act as a temporary stimulant.

Eat healthy and eat smart — Try to have healthier meals before bed, ideally eating food that is less likely to raise your blood glucose too much. Additionally, avoid foods that are associated with hot flashes, such as spicy foods or caffeine. Smaller and earlier meals are also helpful - sleeping on a full stomach is uncomfortable and eating later in the evening is associated with weight gain as well.

Follow a regular sleep schedule — Try and teach your body that when it's time for bed, it's time for bed! Going to bed around the same time every night is a great way to instill a sleep schedule. This includes getting up at a similar time, not having a weekend lie in! Additionally, avoid napping in general, this is likely to disrupt your nighttime sleep further.

Keep your bedroom cool and comfortable — If you struggle with hot flashes and night sweats, this one's for you! Create a cool dark environment in your room that may help reduce these symptoms Whether that is keeping it colder then normal, sleeping with thin sheets, or taking a shower before bed. If these symptoms are causing you to wake up in the middle of the night, try controlling them and see how that affects your sleep.

Going to sleep when you’re truly tired — Struggling to sleep just leads to frustration. If you’re not asleep within 30 minutes, get out of bed, go to another room and do something relaxing like reading or listening to music until you are tired enough to sleep.

Use lights to your advantage — Natural light keeps your internal clock on a healthy sleep/wake cycle, so let in the light first thing in the morning. Blue light from computer screens has been demonstrated to disrupt the sleep cycle so avoid it at bedtime.

Natural remedies — Sleep aids such as lavender oil, magnesium or chamomile may be worth a try. These act more as relaxants than anything else, however, may help ease your mind before going to bed. They can also form part of a regular sleep routine, which can help prepare your mind and body for sleep.

If you've tried these and are interested in learning more about hormone treatments, check out our useful guide on when to start HRT.

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