Menopause and sleep
Our sleep changes over our lives, both in terms of how long we need to sleep as well as how well we sleep. As we grow older we tend to have a lower percentage of our sleep in the important deep sleep phases, which is natural but can lower our sleep quality. Many factors impact how well we sleep, menopause is one factor that unfortunately often make it difficult for us to sleep well.
A finish study showed that the total sleep time decreased with almost 40 minutes from the age of 46 years to 52 years for women. The most common sleep problems during menopause are hot flashes but breathing problems during sleep, and insomnia is also reported to a greater extent than during other ages.
Don’t despair, there are actions you can take to sleep better!
INSOMNIA DURING MENOPAUSE
Studies has shown that up to 60% of menopausal women complain of insomnia, something that doesn’t only impact our nights but also our days. As a result we wake up tired and with less focus and clarity. Hormonal changes and an increased risk for depression are two factors that can contribute to insomnia during the menopause years.
If you are suffering from insomnia you can consider treatments with hormone replacement therapy, meaning taking estrogen tablets to compensate for the lower production of this hormone. Your doctor will be able to advice you on if this could be an appropriate measurement for you.
There are also a number of non-medical solutions to consider to improve your sleep quality. This could be a good time to take stock of your sleep habits and sleep hygiene and test if making a few changes can have a real difference. The main factors that impact our sleep are:
- Food: there are some foods that are real sleep killers such as alcohol, caffeine and food that are difficult to digest. Some other foods, so called snooze food, for example those that naturally contain melatonin, actually help us to sleep better
- Exercise: there is a clear correlation between sleep quality and exercise. Even shorter durations of low intense work-outs have a real impact on our sleep quality. By exercising outside we get a double benefit of movement and natural light. Being exposed to natural light during the day helps to reinforce our sleep wake cycle.
- Habits and lifestyle: many of us are using technical gadgets late at night but the blue light emitted reduces the production of melatonin which can make it difficult for us to fall asleep. Establish a sleep schedule where you start unwinding and relaxing well before going to bed and try to keep the same schedule day after day.
- Mood and stress: try to beat the stress-sleep cycle by prioritizing a good night’s sleep. If you find thoughts and concerns are keeping you up try to have a to-do list next to your bed so that you can table any concerns for the next day.
- Bedroom: make sure that your bedroom is a haven of peace. Keep it cool, dark and quit as much as possible. It might be cozy to have pets in bed but they can disturb our sleep quality and should ideally sleep in their own beds.
SLEEP APNEA DURING MENOPAUSE
During menopause snoring is more common and more severe than during other life phases. Sleep apnea is another problem that can make sleeping difficult during this time. Sleep apnea means that your breathing stops and starts during the sleep which disrupts our sleeps and lowers our sleep quality.
If you think that you might suffer from sleep apnea you should contact your doctor as more health problems can develop if it’s left untreated.
Actions that can help alleviate the condition range from using breathing devices that open up the airways to lifestyle changes such as losing weight (there is a close link between over-weight and sleep apnea) and changing sleep position.
HOT FLASHES DURING MENOPAUSE
Studies by the National Sleep Foundation show that 75-85% of women are suffering from hot flashes during menopause which significantly decreases their sleep quality. The reason for hot flashes is still debated but many scientist link it to lower levels of estrogen which trick the hypothalamus (the temperature regulating region of the brain) into thinking that the body is overheating. Our bodies natural defense is to try to cool down, our blood vessels dilate and blood flow to the skin increase which result in a flushed and sweaty feeling.
The hot flashes usually starts in the face and spreads to the chest lasting on average for around 3 minutes. Most women in menopause suffer from hot flashes which can last from 1 year up to 5 years.
Hot flashes impact our sleep in two ways; firstly the change in temperature can make us wake up making for a more restless sleep. Secondly it lowers or sleep quality with less percentage of our total sleep time in the deep sleep phases. It’s important to keep the best temperature for sleep for a truly restorative sleep.
There are a number of actions we can take to reduce the negative impact of hot flashes during menopause:
- Keep the bedroom temperature cool: A cooler bedroom, below 18 C, is good for our sleep quality regardless of life phase, during menopause it’s even more important. By breathing in cold air we lower or core temperature which helps us to fall asleep and to stay asleep. This also helps to counter hot flashes during the night.
- Keeping a cooling aid nearby: by keeping a glass of ice water next to your bed and a wet cloth you can quickly cool yourself down in case of hot flashes at night.
- Use the right pajamas for hot flashes: most sleepwear today is actually not designed to aid our sleep. They trap in excess heat and easily become soaked if you start to sweat. By using at light weight, moisture wicking pajamas that is very breathable you can moderate the impact of hot flashes to ensure that you sleep deeper for longer.
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