The menopause and sleep problems
Sleep Problems and Menopause, Causes and Treatments
As it gains more and more media attention, most people are now aware that the menopause exists, but a surprising number, including women, remain in the dark about its causes, symptoms, and the therapies that are available.
I have been listening to Lisa Snowdon and her Midweek Menopause IG-live sessions, which she hosts with Dr. Naomi Potter. I have found these sessions to be incredibly easy to access and so helpful for bringing this topic into the mainstream, it is a revolutionary way of furthering the conversation.
One of the most frequently reported symptoms that women approaching and going through the menopause are noticing is poor quality sleep but, all-too-often, we fail to understand why this occurs and what we can do to relieve the problem.
So, what are the reasons for the menopause and why do women experience the symptoms that they do during this time of transition in their lives?
Here, we take a closer look at why the menopause is linked to so many sleep problems, what treatment options are available, and how we can help ourselves to improve the quality of our sleep, something I am sure we all would appreciate! Restorative sleep is so important for our mental health.
The Menopause – An Overview
The menopause involves a period of enormous upheaval with our hormones. It’s not surprising, then, that it’s a time of our life when we encounter some major sleep disturbances. It has been reported that hormonal insomnia is one of the top problems women report when they’re going through “the change”.
Women experience menopause in different ways. While some of are lucky to notice few or no symptoms, others report severe difficulties including some that interfere badly with their sleep. In fact, it has been said that as many as half of all women suffer menopausal and perimenopause sleep problems. With this in mind, finding ways to relieve those difficulties is key. I myself have been impacted by disrupted sleep during menopause and I have found my Dohar to be a godsend in finding the ideal temperature-regulating natural cotton bedding
When we reach menopause we come to the end of our childbearing years. Before we reach this stage, our periods are generally regular, and we have rhythmic rises and falls in ]our hormonal levels. However, as the menopause approaches, those rhythms become less regular, resulting in our hormone levels changing dramatically and erratically. As a result, sleep can suffer.
Women who go through the menopause early due to surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, experience an abrupt onset of intense symptoms. However, natural menopause usually occurs over a number of years with three distinct stages;
1. The perimenopause – this tends to begin during a woman’s 40s bringing irregular periods, erratic oestrogen levels and decreases levels of progesterone.
2. The menopause – this usually happens during a woman’s 50s and is reached when she hasn’t had a period for 12 months consecutively. At this time, both progesterone and oestrogen levels drop dramatically.
3. Post-menopause – a woman no longer has periods, and her progesterone and oestrogen levels stay low permanently.
It is these fluctuations in the levels of progesterone and oestrogen cause most of the sleep issues arising from the menopause.
When oestrogen is at the correct level it increases REM sleep, reduces sleep latency and decreases the number of times a woman wakes after she falls asleep. The result is increased total sleeping time and well-regulated body temperature throughout sleep. When oestrogen levels drop, all of these benefits are lost.
Furthermore, progesterone’s sedative effects are also lost as levels of this hormone decline during the menopause.
There are two other hormones that are also affected by the menopause – melatonin and cortisol. Melatonin, the hormone that helps us to sleep, also often significantly decreases while cortisol (the fight or flight hormone) elevates during the night, causing added worry and stress.
A lot of people mistakenly think that sleep issues only begin to occur once a woman is actually going through the menopause itself, but this isn’t actually the case. In fact, a lot of women begin to experience sleep difficulties years before their periods finally stop altogether. During the perimenopausal stage, most women begin to suffer from night sweats that cause them to awaken from sleep, that may only worsen over time.
Since the perimenopause stage can last as long as a decade in some women, that’s a very long time for sleep disturbances to occur, and it’s no wonder that so many women today are now looking for better solutions to improve their sleep quality throughout their 40s, 50s, and beyond so that they can enjoy a good life as they get older and enter the next stage of their lives.
What Are The Symptoms of Menopause?
The menopause comes with a host of accompanying symptoms, many of which can be difficult to cope with. They include:
· Hot flushes and night sweats
· Restless leg syndrome
· Anxiety, stress, and depression
· Sleep apnoea
Needless to say, all of these feed into a poor night’s sleep.
As many as 80% of all menopausal women experience hot flushes, causing an intense feeling of heat throughout the face, head, neck and upper body. The sufferer feels sweaty and hot whilst also experiencing flushing and heart palpitations. Some women find they suffer hot flushes once or twice a fortnight, whereas others have them as often as every hour or more. These flushes, or flashes are closely linked to disturbed sleep patterns since the flushing sensation and body heat causes nighttime awakening. Once the sufferer is awake, they can struggle to return to sleep, and if this pattern continues to repeat every night in the long term, insomnia becomes the result.
Sleep apnoea is less common but serious sleep disorder that can occur in women around the menopause due to hormonal changes that cause the muscles in the upper airways to relax excessively, obstructing breathing. People with this disorder stop and start breathing during their sleep and this causes them to awaken slightly each time it occurs, resulting in excessive tiredness, headaches, irritability, and low mood,
Restless leg syndrome, or RLS, is another condition linked to the menopause, although it isn’t directly caused by it. It is thought that changing oestrogen levels during the menopause contribute to the symptoms of RLS since oestrogen has a key role to play in muscle relaxation. Restless leg syndrome causes tingling, unpleasant, and unusual tingling in the legs as well as an urge to move them. When this occurs during the night, sufferers are awakened from their sleep and find it difficult to drop off again due to the involuntary movements and sensations.
Depression, stress, and anxiety are closely linked with the menopause. Having plenty of high-quality sleep is vitally important when it comes to regulating moods, so it isn’t too surprising that restless and disturbed sleep at this time in a woman’s life is linked with worsening stress, worry, and depression.
Since mood disorders also cause lost sleep, it becomes a vicious cycle that menopausal women become trapped in. People who are depressed are more likely to suffer from insomnia, whereas people suffering from insomnia are more at risk of depression. This feedback loop results in an ongoing pattern of disturbed sleep that is difficult to break. Even when you go and see a doctor, this cycle may be hard to establish and hard to treat.
Insomnia doesn’t just affect sufferers during the night, it has an ongoing effect into the daytime too. It causes daytime sleepiness, poor focus, low mood, higher levels of irritability, and difficulty in getting tasks done affecting your over mental health.
What Treatments Options Are Available For Menopausal Symptoms?
There are medical options available to relieve the unwanted symptoms of the menopause. Not all work for all women, and some therapies are unsuitable for some patients. It is important to discuss what might suit you with your GP or a menopause specialist doctor.
Some of the options include:
· Hormonal therapies such as progestin/progesterone or oestrogen therapies
· Dietary supplements
· Yoga and exercise
· Maintaining a healthy bodyweight
· CBTi (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Insomnia)
This final option is an effective and medication-free menopause sleep aid. It aims to relieve sleep problems relating to the menopause. It looks at the behaviours, thought patterns and sleep habits of the individual so they can identify what is preventing them from sleeping well. Once the causes are pinpointed, CBTi allows the individual to remove their negative sleep behaviours and build healthier habits to improve their sleep patterns.
There are, however, other natural ways to improve your sleeping patterns that you can use in combination with the above methods.
How Can I Sleep Better?
Most women entering the menopause find their sleep is disturbed regularly by sweats and hot flushes. There are a few ways to tackle this problem, beginning with reducing or eliminating alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and spicy foods from your lifestyle to minimise the possibility of hot flushes.
Reducing screen time just before bed is also a good idea since blue light from smartphone and tablet screens can affect melatonin levels and make it harder to drift off.
The next port of call is to examine your bedroom environment to check it isn’t making your problem worse.
First, you need to check the temperature in your sleeping environment. It should be about 18 degrees Celsius to achieve optimal sleep. Any warmer than this, and you’re likely to find that you wake up sweating at some point during the night.
With this in mind, you should think about what you’re wearing in bed. Nightwear made from polyester and other man-made materials traps sweat and heat close to your body and makes you more uncomfortable. Switching to cool, cotton nightwear helps to dissipate the heat away from your body to keep you at an even temperature.
You should also consider changing your bedding to blankets that keep you cool at night. Thick duvets can be too heavy during the menopause and contribute to the discomfort of hot flashes and sweats. A cotton cooling blanket is a far better option. Using multiple thin cotton muslin blanket layers allows you to remove one at a time to achieve the perfect temperature during the night to promote restful sleep.
The best blankets for night sweats are, by far, cotton dohar bedding, which is made up of three breathable layers of top of the range cotton.
Cotton Dohar Bedding Promotes Healthy Sleep During The Menopause
Cotton dohar blankets are a traditional Indian form of bedding that has been used for centuries to regulate the temperature of the sleeper. Popular during the days of the Maharajahs, dohar blankets were the ideal solution during the hottest nights of the year before the arrival of air conditioning systems.
A dohar is made from three layers of breathable, airy, 100% superfine cotton. The three breathable layers of this lightweight coverlet are designed to trap cool air between them, so the sleeper remains at a comfortable temperature in bed.
Soft and luxurious, dohar blankets help to ward off the unpleasant feeling of waking up hot and sweaty from night sweats during the menopause, but thanks to its layered and weightier construction, it helps you to feel cosy and comfortable without the extra inbuilt heat that comes with using a duvet.
As an added advantage, dohars become even more comfortable and soft over time. Each time they’re washed in your washing machine and then line dried or popped into a tumble dryer on a low heat, their 100% cotton natural fibres become twisted, pulled, and bent, and that only serves to make them feel softer and cosier.
They also come in beautiful, subtle designs that look wonderful in any bedroom thanks to their skilful handcrafted construction by talented artisans. Each dohar is completely unique, which makes it a beautiful choice for any home.We offer matching block printed quilts and quilted pillow shams, check out our selection here.
You can enjoy cooler, more comfortable sleep during and after your menopause without ever compromising on your bedroom’s stylish good looks! Make your bed your safe haven.
I do hope that the information given helps you with your menopause journey, or even just a better night’s sleep with our wonderful dohar range.
Take a look at our cotton bedding collection incl Sleep Dohars here.
If you would like to read more about the menopause read my previous blog here