Sometimes it can seem like a good night’s sleep is a fond but distant memory.
I found this to be one of the most difficult symptoms to cope with because it really affected my everyday life. Before the menopause, I had always been able to sleep really well. In fact, I would only really wake up in the night if I’d had a late dinner. I’ve never had a problem with getting up early in the morning either (even with a hangover in my party days) but I suddenly found myself struggling to get out of bed.
The most difficult part of not sleeping is that it impacts on every part of your life. Your concentration, memory, mood, appetite and energy levels are all drastically affected by a lack of sleep. This can feed into a destructive cycle of anxiety which makes you sleep less which makes you more anxious. You might find yourself snapping at your partner or children over something trivial or crying because you’ve misplaced your keys as I did.
My exhaustion would immediately turn to anxiety as I struggled to get back to sleep.
I found that night sweats were especially debilitating as I would wake up at 3am absolutely dripping with sweat; exhausted both physically and mentally. By the time I had changed my pyjamas, towelled myself down and got back into bed I was wide awake. My exhaustion would immediately turn to anxiety as I struggled to get back to sleep.
What Causes Sleep Problems?
It’s all to do with a simple hormone: melatonin. Melatonin plays a vital role in controlling our sleep and wake cycles. The problem we face as we get older is that our melatonin levels start to decrease with age. Sadly, estrogen is not the only hormone affected by fluctuations. As our levels decrease, it starts getting harder and harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Progesterone also has a sleep-inducing effect and declining levels means a decline in sleep quality.
Other factors associated with the menopause such as night sweats, anxiety and depression also make sleep difficult. Post-menopausal women report increased snoring as a common development. Around 16% of postmenopausal women report having trouble falling asleep and 41% report waking up frequently in the night.
My Top Tips
Try a consistent sleep schedule
Sometimes the simplest solution is the best solution. When you begin having problems with sleep, it’s important to try making your sleep schedule consistent. That means going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. It sounds unrealistic as many of us lead very busy lives and there is always so much to do but a regular rhythm (or something as cost to regular as possible) will aid your sleep cycle.
Again, this might sound unrealistic in our society but the truth is that anxiety and stress can be linked to trouble falling asleep. Try to power off (your mind, body, and technology) as you prepare for bed. Whether that’s a pre-bed meditation session or curling up with a good book, it’s important to keep it calm and relaxing before sleeping!
Turn off your devices
According to the National Sleep Foundation of America, “Using TVs, tablets, smartphones, laptops, or other electronic devices before bed delays your body’s internal clock (a.k.a., your circadian rhythm), suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and makes it more difficult to fall asleep. This is largely due to the short-wavelength, artificial blue light that’s emitted by these devices. The more electronic devices that a person uses in the evening, the harder it is to fall asleep or stay asleep. Besides increasing your alertness at a time when you should be getting sleepy, which in turn delays your bedtime, using these devices before turning in delays the onset of REM sleep, reduces the total amount of REM sleep, and compromises alertness the next morning. Over time, these effects can add up to a significant, chronic deficiency in sleep”. So try and switch off before bed!
As our hormone levels are unstable, we can sometimes feel very low to the point of anxiety and depression. In my case, it became so bad that I didn’t want to leave the house. This is when alcohol can become a crutch as alcohol consumption is closely linked to serotonin production and when you drink, your symptoms seem to disappear and you feel on top on the world. But all those negative emotions come flooding back the next morning; not to mention the effects of a hangover as the liver has to work overtime. Your body is already coping with a lot and this becomes yet another thing that it has to deal with.
Treat night sweats
If it’s night sweats that are waking you up at night and disturbing your beauty sleep, then tackle the problem head on. For top tips and information on night sweats, read my article here.
Lavender has been known to help induce sleep and help relaxation. Lavender scented soaps, sprays, salts, and teas are all simple ways to get some much deserved aroma sleep therapy.
As your estrogen levels decrease, so do your magnesium levels. Since magnesium helps relax your muscles, less magnesium means muscle tension that can keep you up at night. If you’re not getting enough magnesium in your diet, consider taking magnesium supplements.