Why It Happens And What To Do
As a nurse practitioner, I treat a lot of women who are struggling through the hormonal changes associated with peri-menopause (the time leading up to menopause) and menopause. One of women’s biggest complaints is the change in their sleep patterns.
They often find themselves waking up several times a night and can’t get back to sleep or they are waking up due to night sweats. Does this sound familiar? “I have no trouble falling asleep, but then wake up drenched in sweat. I have to throw off the covers and change my nightgown. Then I’m cold and have to cover back up. No wait, I’m hot and grab the fan”. This goes on all night, every night. This hormonal roller coaster ride that is disrupting your sleep is leading to further hormonal imbalances. The end result, you are fat, tired, depressed, and feel like you are going crazy.
It probably comes as no surprise, many studies have shown a link between menopause and insomnia. It seems that at this time in a woman’s life, her sleep patterns often become disrupted. Women who may never have had trouble falling asleep before, find that in middle age they are lying awake more and more often. Or they wake during the night and have trouble sleeping again. So why do menopause and insomnia often go together, and what can you do to improve your sleep?
Causes Of Insomnia In Menopausal Women
As mentioned, often the hormonal fluctuations of menopause can cause insomnia directly. As we age, our body clocks change, and sleep disorders can be the result. It is well known that the hormonal changes of adolescence causes changes in the sleep patterns (just look at the way a kid who use to bounce up at dawn is suddenly sleeping until noon) and for some women, a similar thing may happen at menopause. Not that women are sleeping until noon, but that hormonal changes are affecting sleep quality and duration. This is obviously a time of great hormonal shifts.
During the time of peri-menopause and menopause there is the common complaint of night sweats, caused by hot flashes during the night. These can wake a woman several times a night, and sometimes it is not easy to fall asleep again.
Hormones that contribute to night sweats are a lowering of estrogens and either a rise or fall of cortisol. Cortisol should naturally be lower at night and melatonin higher. This allows the body time to repair and relax. When chronic day to day stress catches up to you this normal rhythm is out of balance. Sleep quality is further impacted by a fall in your progesterone. Progesterone helps you to relax, have a sense of well-being and helps you to fall asleep.
This time of life is a stressful time for many women. The physical changes of the menopause are impossible to ignore. Some of them cause physical discomfort and others cause anxiety. It is a time when you come face to face with the emotional and physical realities of your approaching old age and death, even if you have successfully managed to avoid thinking about these things before. And stress is a big cause of insomnia. So sometimes, menopause and insomnia go hand in hand even if the menopause is not the direct cause.
What To Do About The Menopause And Insomnia?
If your problem is night sweats, then you may find it helpful to take either natural hormone therapy (bio-identical hormones), natural herbal remedies, or homeopathy for this problem associated with menopause. You will need to discuss this with a qualified health practitioner. This should not be a one size fits all approach. Each woman’s needs are different and what works for one may not work for another. You particular health risks also need to be considered.
Of course there are also sleep medications that you may be able to take, either prescribed by your doctor or herbal remedies. But what if you do not want to take medication?
Achieving Natural Sleep Without Aids
Avoid stimulants, especially in the evening. Stimulants include emotional situations (arguments etc) watching TV, sitting in front of a computer screen, as well as physical stimulants like caffeine.
Avoid eating high carb foods or drinking alcohol as these are sure fire (no pun intended) triggers for hot flashes.
Make sure that your bedroom is ventilated, quiet and not too warm. If your spouse snores, you may need to deal with that in some way.
Relaxation techniques can be very useful for helping you to fall asleep, both at the beginning of the night and after waking. Try listening to relaxing music, meditation, or a warm bath.
Try to have a consistent bedtime. Your adrenal glands, that produce cortisol, do their repair and rebuilding from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. You need to be in bed sleeping at this time for this to happen.
Turn the lights down about an hour before bed as this will help stimulate melatonin naturally. This will help you further relax and make you drowsy so you can fall asleep.