Dealing With Insomnia During Menopause
Are you having a hard time getting a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone. As many as 85 percent of menopausal women experience hot flashes and night sweats that make it impossible to sleep comfortably and soundly. The National Sleep Foundation estimates that approximately 61 percent of menopausal women deal with sleep problems, according to WebMD.
In addition to putting you at higher risk for injury, accidents, and next-day grouchiness, lack of sleep is also linked to heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. What are some of the reasons women experience such debilitating insomnia during perimenopause and menopause?
As a woman’s ovaries decrease production of estrogen, she becomes more vulnerable to sleep-disrupting stressors and environmental factors. As progesterone declines, a woman loses the sleep-promoting benefits of this hormone. Decreasing hormones also trigger the hot flashes and night sweats.
These sudden surges of adrenaline jolt your brain awake and significantly raise your temperature, causing sweat and then chills. Some researchers believe that a drop in blood sugar and the hormone leptin also play a role in hot flashes.
Mood Swings and Depression
Some women experience depression as a result of estrogen loss. This becomes somewhat of a vicious chicken/egg cycle, however, because the insomnia caused by night sweats surely affects a woman’s mood.
In addition to the powerful hormonal changes, many women find their personal, social, and career lives transforming in mid-life. Children are grown, couples downsize, jobs come to an end, and elderly parents suddenly need care. All of these stressors can interfere with a woman’s ability to sleep.
You’ve no doubt heard experts recommend that women with sleep problems maintain a regular go-to-bed and waking time. By consciously creating a structured and controlled schedule and sleep environment, and practicing good “sleep hygiene,” you increase the probability that you’ll be able to finally get some restorative REM sleep. Try a few of these tips to develop a sleep protocol that works for you:
- Make your room dark and quiet. Consider a blackout curtain, an eye mask, earplugs, or a white noise machine.
- Keep your room as cool and well ventilated as you can. If it doesn’t disturb you, sleep with a fan or your A/C on.
- Sleep in loose clothing made of natural fibers, such as cotton.
- Empty your bladder right before bed.
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and spicy foods before sleep.
- Keep a washcloth in a bucket of ice near your bed for quick relief, or invest in a hot flash cooling pillow.
- Exercise regularly, but schedule it early in the day.
- Don’t nap during the day.
Ask your doctor if hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is right for you. Many women find great relief from hot flashes and insomnia when they begin a program of low dose HRT used for the shortest possible time. Another option to consider is a low-dose birth control pill that stabilizes the fluctuating estrogen levels.
If HRT is not appropriate for you, low doses of some antidepressants help many women. Prozac, Paxil, Effexor, and other SSRIs are often prescribed, along with an anti-seizure medication called gabapentin and the high blood pressure drug, clonidine. Brisdelle and Duavee are two newer medications made specifically for hot flashes.
Helpful alternative therapies include acupuncture, Shiatsu, massage, yoga, meditation, and other relaxation techniques. Commit yourself to a diet built on a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, beans, nuts and seeds, and whole grains. Limit saturated fats and sugars. Consult with your doctor about your calcium or vitamin D requirements, and remember: menopause eventually ends. At some point you will return to a normal sleep cycle and wake up feeling refreshed and invigorated!