Sleepless in Menopause

I love my sleep and always was someone who needed lots of it to function. Even as a baby my parents made everyone jealous by having 3 children that pretty much slept through the night and day from week 3. Yes, you read that right. She had to regular check to see if we are still alive as it was quite unusual. Fast forward 41 years and I still need my sleep. Anything under 8 hours of sleep and I notice my mental and physical performance suffer. And unfortunately next to hot flashes and night sweats, insomnia is one of the most well-known and most experienced symptoms of menopause. It's estimated that 40-60% of women suffer from sleep problems during menopause. A study published by the National Center of Biotechnology Information in 2019 show that 26% of women report having such severe symptoms that it affects their daytime functioning. And from speaking to a few of my colleagues and clients I definitely know that many women suffer through the day often due tolack of a good night sleep. Menopause is believed to disrupt normal sleep function through two main mechanisms:

  1. Hormones: Changing levels of estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone have been associated with problems falling and staying asleep.

  2. Vasomotor symptoms (VMS): hot flashes and night sweats.

Lack of sleep is possibly the most detrimental of all menopause symptoms because it affects our body’s ability to function properly - mentally, psychologically and physically. Several studies show that even a short period of sleep deprivation affects our cognition, memory, reaction time, and ability to handle stress. And a recent study seven showed that sleeping less than 5 hours per night can lead to higher risk of being diagnosed with diabetes and an increase risk of obesity. Sleep has a key role in supporting an array of the body’s hormones and metabolism. Chronic sleep deprivation is often a factor in obesity. People that sleep less tend to eat more because they have more time to eat and tired individuals tend to eat more to combat exhaustion. From own experience I definitely can relate to that and I find it hard to eat healthy and a balanced diet on days with reduced sleep the night before. Further, sleep affects two important hormones related to appetite: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin, which increases appetite, is higher with a lack of sleep. Leptin, which decreases hunger is lower with lack of sleep. So, not getting enough sleep leads to losing hunger control.

So knowing all this sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day. However, during menopause, our hormones can make it harder to attain this brain and body reset. It’s worth trying well known basic sleep tips published by the Sleep Foundation:

Set Your Sleep Schedule Having a set schedule normalizes sleep as an essential part of your day and gets your brain and body accustomed to getting the full amount of sleep that you need.

  • Have a Fixed Wake-Up Time: Regardless of whether it’s a weekday or weekend, try to wake up at the same time since a fluctuating schedule keeps you from getting into a rhythm of consistent sleep.

  • Prioritize Sleep: It might be tempting to skip sleep in order to work, study, socialize, or exercise, but it’s vital to treat sleep as a priority. Calculate a target bedtime based on your fixed wake-up time and do your best to be ready for bed around that time each night.

  • Make Gradual Adjustments: If you want to shift your sleep times, don’t try to do it all in one fell swoop because that can throw your schedule out of whack. Instead, make small, step-by-step adjustments of up to an hour or two4 so that you can get adjusted and settle into a new schedule.

  • Don’t Overdo It With Naps: Naps can be a handy way to regain energy during the day, but they can throw off sleep at night. To avoid this, try to keep naps relatively short and limited to the early afternoon.

Follow a Nightly Routine

How you prepare for bed can determine how easily you’ll be able to fall asleep. A pre-sleep playbook including some of these tips can put you at ease and make it easier to get to fall asleep when you want to.

  • Keep Your Routine Consistent: Following the same steps each night, including things like putting on your pajamas and brushing your teeth, can reinforce in your mind that it’s bedtime.

  • Budget 30 Minutes For Winding Down: Take advantage of whatever puts you in a state of calm such as soft music, light stretching, reading, and/or relaxation exercises.

  • Dim Your Lights: Try to keep away from bright lights because they can hinder the production of melatonin, a hormone that the body creates to facilitate sleep.

  • Unplug From Electronics: Build in a 30-60 minute pre-bed buffer time that is device-free. Cell phones, tablets, and laptops cause mental stimulation that is hard to shut off and also generate blue light that may decrease melatonin production.