Menopause and Insomnia: 4 Ways Menopause Can Interfere With Your Sleep
Maybe you’re in your late 30s and creeping up on menopause—or maybe your menopause is already in full swing. Either way, it can be a rough transition, especially when it comes to sleep. Many women find themselves struggling to fall asleep and stay asleep, even if they never experienced insomnia at any previous point of their lives.
If you have learned to dread putting your head down on your pillow at night, you may be wondering what you can do about it. The answer depends in part on identifying the cause.
“But the cause is menopause … right?” Well, yes—that is the simple answer. But menopause can actually interfere with your sleep in a number of different ways. You need to understand the exact mechanism before you can treat insomnia effectively and get back to sleeping well at night. Here are four ways in which menopause can interfere with your sleep.
1. Insomnia may be a direct result of the hormonal changes in your body.
Through most of your life, you have been subjected to the ups and downs of a monthly cycle of hormone fluctuations. When you enter into menopause, your body finally gets off of this ride. While that can actually have some advantages for your health over the long run, the transition can be awkward.
During your menstrual cycles, your ovaries produce both estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones both act to promote sleep. According to this research article, “Progesterone … has direct sedative qualities.” During your menstrual cycles, did you ever experience a night or two of insomnia right before your period? That happens when progesterone production drops off right before your menses.
When you enter menopause, that drop off is permanent. As you can imagine, that is going to cause significant disruptions in your sleep until your body adjusts.
If you click through and read the research article I linked to above (which I highly recommend, since it has a lot of great, detailed information presented in a simple way), you can also learn more about the effects of estrogen on sleep. Estrogen is more complicated since it produces different effects on humans than it does on other animals. In humans, it can increase REM cycles, boost total sleep time, and reduce the number of times that you wake up in the middle of the night.
Just like your progesterone production, your estrogen production is winding down during menopause. Even if you had no other symptoms (see below), this would be more than enough to give you insomnia!
The solution: A lot of women begin hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to balance out their hormones during menopause. If you do not want to do this (and you may seriously want to consider avoiding it), you can take herbs to accomplish the same purpose in a gentler, more natural way.
During your menstrual cycles, your ovaries produce both estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones both act to promote sleep.
2. Your hot flashes could be keeping you awake.
Estrogen helps to regulate your body temperature. So when your estrogen levels start to decline during menopause, you begin experiencing the dreaded “hot flashes.” Hot flashes are uncomfortable and produce a great deal of sweat. They also are accompanied by a burst of adrenaline. The combination is enough to wake you from a dead sleep and keep you awake.
The solution: The HRT or hormone-balancing herb suggestions above can help you out. What herbs can you take? Some popular options include Vitex (chaste tree), hawthorn, motherwort, magnolia bark, soy, Indian ginseng, black cohosh and sage leaf. You also can simply wait. While hot flashes are annoying, they will not last forever. Over time as your body adjusts to your new hormonal profile, the hot flashes will fade into the past.
3. You may be struggling with depression, rage, and other mood problems.
Depression, rage, and other mood swings are notorious features of menopause for many women. These symptoms are in part a direct result of the hormonal changes. But they also can be tied to the stress of undergoing a major change of life. When you enter into menopause, you become acutely aware of age and the passage of time—even your impending mortality. You can no longer have a child. If that is something which is important to you and still an unfulfilled dream, you may be swamped with even more cripplingly painful emotions.
All of these mood issues can easily keep you awake at night. It isn’t easy to sleep when you are being subjected to constant floods of unwanted emotions.
The solution: If your depression and rage are the direct result of hormonal changes, HRT or herbs may be able to help. If they are tied more to the changes in your life, you might want to consider therapy.
4. You could be struggling to adjust with other aspects of your life.
Other problems or challenges in your life can keep you awake too, even if they are not linked directly to your menopause. Menopause serves as a lens, drawing different issues in your life into perspective.
For example, maybe your adult children are moving out on their own. Now that you are in menopause, you are more acutely aware of the sense of loss which accompanies that change. Those are the last children you will have, unless you adopt.
Perhaps you had a miscarriage a few years ago, tried to have a baby again, and never succeeded. Even if the depression from that loss has faded, menopause can bring it roaring back to the forefront of your life.
Maybe there are aspects of your life you are unhappy with. Maybe your sex life isn’t what it used to be. Perhaps you are feeling redundant at the office. Maybe your marriage is on the rocks. Maybe you just never accomplished the personal goals that you thought you would by age 30, and you’re now 50. You might even be going through a midlife crisis (it is a total myth that those only happen to men). Lost opportunities and dreams are keeping you awake at night, mulling over regrets and uncertainties.
The solution: These are problems which unfortunately cannot be solved with pills. You will need to tackle each of them individually and decide what to do. Even if they are keeping you awake at night, you can try to look at this as an opportunity. Use that renewed sense of urgency to motivate you to make positive changes in your life. Some dreams may be lost, but others may still be out there waiting for you.
You Can Also Try Treating Insomnia Directly
Remember, unless you have had unrelated struggles with insomnia at other points of your life, your difficulties sleeping are probably directly tied to your menopause through the causes above. So you won’t have a lot of luck treating the insomnia unless you are treating those underlying causes.
That said, you can still try treating the insomnia itself at the same time. So while you are taking your herbs for menopause, you can take the following steps to sleep better at night:
- Keep your sleep schedule as regular as possible. You may be tempted to try to get extra sleep on weekends to catch up if you lose sleep during the week, but this can just throw things off further.
- Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Believe it or not, even a single cup of coffee six hours before bed can interfere with your sleep.
- Do something relaxing before bed to soothe your mind and body. A warm, relaxing bath or shower helps a lot of people. You can also try reading a book or doing some other calming activity which clears your mind.
- Make sure your environment is optimized for sleep. It is more important than ever to make sure that you are sleeping in a temperature-controlled environment if you suffer hot flashes. Make your room as dark as you can, and make sure that you won’t be interrupted by random sounds. A white noise machine is a great way to block out annoying traffic noises.
- Get more exercise. For most people, it is best to do this during the day and avoid doing it before bed, but some people actually find a brief workout before bed helps out. You may also find it useful in recovering from hot flashes in the middle of the night since it gives you a chance to burn off that excess adrenaline.
The above is just a short list of suggestions. There are a lot of things you can do to increase the amount of sleep you are getting and improve the quality of that sleep. If you tackle the problem using several different methods, you will achieve the best results. Menopause is frustrating, and insomnia can be one of the worst symptoms, but there is a lot you can do to combat it. And remember, as bad as it may seem now, over time your symptoms will fade!