We have all suffered through those nights when peaceful sleep simply eludes us – and quite often, these can start at a relatively early age: when you change schools, or even just move up
a year; the night before a big exam, a big game, the prom. That last night in your own bed before you go away to college… waiting up for results… the eve of your wedding – then, you have children, and sleep becomes a distant memory! You love them, cherish and nurture them, protect them from harm, worry about them constantly – then they leave home and the empty hole in your heart screams with silence and keeps you awake in the darkness, wondering where your life went. Time heals though, and sleep returns to fill your nights. Until around your mid-40s, when life as you know it ends … and peri-menopause begins!
Now, we all know life is
not as cut and dried as that: we all follow different paths, we take different
people with us, we make different choices, and we have different experiences.
As women, we don’t all start (or
finish) menopause at
the same time; our symptoms (and their severity) vary, whether they are hormonal, physical or psychological, and our responses
are uniquely our own.
Some women reach menopause
in their 30s while others only start in their 60s; however, it
is safe to say that the average age of menopause is 51 (12 consecutive months after your last period). However, peri-menopause symptoms typically show from about 4 years before this.
During these 4 peri-menopause years, the production of estrogen and progesterone in
the ovaries gradually lessens, along with the frequency and severity of
menstrual periods, until they stop completely, and menopause occurs (if
the ovaries are removed surgically,
periods end abruptly, and menopause is immediate). The following stage, known
as post-menopause, also lasts on average
for around 4 years. Again, this
varies greatly, and some women have been known to experience symptoms for up to
Sleeping problems during menopause
Unfortunately, many of the symptoms that arise during both peri- and post-menopause tend to cause sleeping problems; these include hot flashes, mood disorders, insomnia and sleep-altered breathing issues. It gets worse: sleep deprivation caused by these symptoms can cause intense fatigue and inability to function during the day, and can even result in serious anxiety and depression, thus exacerbating the original problem in a vicious circle.
Generally, insomnia and sleeping problems may be more severe during post-menopause than peri-menopause, especially snoring and gaps or pauses in breathing. As these symptoms may be indicative of a disorder called Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), it is important to seek medical advice.
Hot flashes, the most well-known and talked-about symptom of menopause (both peri and post), can also cause interruptions in sleep patterns. Caused by changes in your hormone levels affecting your body temperature control, hot flashes infuse your face and body with intense heat: you wake up sweating, sometimes breathless, and even with heart palpitations – all of which are guaranteed to put paid to any chances of getting back to sleep in a hurry! For more about coping with hot flashes, click on the link below this blog.
Treatment for menopausal sleeping problems
· Many medical professionals advocate various forms of Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for the treatment of menopausal symptoms and the consequential reduction of sleeping problems. Speak to your physician about the possibilities and potential risks of this type of treatment for your unique situation, and taking your personal and family medical history into account.
· There are also alternative approaches you could explore with your physician, such as sleep-promoting drugs for insomnia, depression or anxiety.
· Phytoestrogen (a plant hormone similar to estrogen) nutritional supplements (ginseng, soy, extract of red clover, black cohosh) may help reduce the severity of sleep-disrupting hot flashes. Again, it is essential to discuss the pros and cons of these OTC supplements with your medical professional, as they are not regulated by the FDA, so their safety, risks and efficacy are not documented.
Coping with menopausal sleeping problems
· Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol, especially at night.
· Follow a balanced eating plan and work on maintaining a healthy weight: avoid big meals, particularly in the evening, and reduce your intake of spicy or acidic foods, as these may trigger hot flashes. Try soy foods (tofu, milk, beans) as they might ease hot flashes too.
· Wear light, easy-wearing pajamas and keep your bedcovers as lightweight and loose as possible – 100% cotton or silk bedlinen may be cooler than artificial fabrics. Air-conditioners and fans would circulate and cool the air, to keep the room at an optimal low temperature for comfortable sleep.
· Don’t worry, be happy! It is easier said than done, but worry and stress are serious thieves of sleep; try meditation, relaxation techniques, massage or exercise to ease your mind, or even read a good book before lights out, to get your mind off the stresses of the day – many women (including me) swear by reading yourself to sleep!
If menopausal sleeping problems keep you awake at night, I hope this blog is helpful to you, and that these lifestyle tips may actually make a difference; remember though, that only your physician is qualified to provide medical advice and assistance – so never self-medicate without consultation!
Nobel and Pullitzer prize-winning author John Steinbeck said, “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it”.
This really is true: sleep is a wonderful healer of the mind and body, and we all deserve to get as much as we need – so don’t let menopause stand in the way of you getting your fair share…GOOD NIGHT & SWEET DREAMS FROM US ALL AT VOOMA!