Sleep Soundly During Menopause
Menopause is a milestone in a woman’s life, marking the end of her reproductive years. It’s a normal part of aging, when the ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone and the menstrual cycle stops.
For some women, this can be a difficult and emotional stage of life. In addition to the end of reproductive years, menopause can bring a litany of side effects that can last years and impact other aspects of a woman’s daily life.
Hot flashes – along with the associated sweating – are the most common symptom of menopause that women experience. Not only do hot flashes and sweating become a nuisance, but they can also interfere with one of the most important things a woman does every day: sleep.
“Women commonly lose sleep during menopause primarily due to hot flashes that occur at night. Hot flashes or night sweats can greatly disrupt sleep. In addition, other medical issues such as anxiety and depression can contribute to insomnia around the time of menopause,” said Dr. Mara Thur, an Abington-Jefferson Health obstetrician-gynecologist.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, approximately 61 percent of menopausal women have issues with sleep. Compounding the issue, difficulty sleeping can lead to other problems, such as daytime drowsiness.
“Insomnia can cause and/or exacerbate many medical conditions. Most importantly, the patient's quality of life can be greatly disturbed by a persistent lack of sleep. In addition, chronic insomnia can lead to self-medication and the potential for drug dependency. It can also intensify feelings of depression and anxiety,” Dr. Thur said.
Since hot flashes and other menopause symptoms are triggered by the body producing less hormones, one common treatment is hormone replacement therapy, in which estrogen, , either alone or combined with progesterone, is administered via a pill, patch or vaginal cream.
However, hormone replacement therapy isn’t for every woman – some aren’t candidates, some don’t have severe enough symptoms, and some women simply decide that the treatment isn’t right for them. Menopausal women who fall into this category have another option.
“Certain low-dose antidepressants (SSRI/SNRIs) have been found to reduce hot flashes,” Dr. Thur said. Relieving hot flashes with this type of medication can also improve the quality of sleep.
But medication and hormones aren’t the only way to achieve a better night’s sleep during menopause.
“One of the most important factors in improving sleep is to optimize one's ‘sleep hygiene.’ Sleep hygiene involves behavioral modifications surrounding the sleep environment,” Dr. Thur said. “Specifically, one should refrain from caffeine for several hours prior to sleep, omit television or other distracting devices from the room, lower the room temperature and keep an extra set of pajamas by the bed.”
Before hopping into bed, try to find ways to stay cool during the night, such as wearing loose clothing made of natural fibers like cotton, and keeping your bedroom cool and well-ventilated.
Maintaining a regular bedtime schedule – going to bed and waking up at the same time every day – can also help. This trains your body to release hormones that make you tired at bedtime and stop producing those hormones when it’s time to get up. Keeping a consistent schedule will actually help you sleep better at night.
Exercising may help you sleep better at night, too. Studies have shown that exercising during the day leads to improved quality of sleep, in addition to fewer symptoms of depression, more vitality, and less daytime sleepiness.