Menopause is one of the most common times for a woman to begin experiencing sleep disorders and sleeplessness. Our body’s decrease in estrogen levels often creates the inability to sleep through the night. It is possible that sleep disorders experienced during menopause are due to the body’s inability to maintain a consistent temperature due to fluctuating hormones. Sleep disorders are also common in menopausal women because their bodies are more susceptible to hot flashes and night sweats, as well as sleep apnea, which is disturbed breathing during the night. Menopause is a common time for women to begin experiencing worsening sleep difficulties.
What are Sleep Disorders?
Women who do not get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep daily are more likely to develop serious health problems, which can also lead to chronic anxiety and a deteriorating immune system. When health becomes a primary focal point, other interests are often neglected.
- Reduced capacity for learning, memory and speech
- Increased irritability and mood swings
- Poor productivity in the workplace
- Weakened immune systems
- Inability to concentrate on daily activities
- Increased chance of car accidents
- Consistently waking up throughout the night
- Sleep walking
- Sleep talking
- Waking up with pounding headaches in the morning
- Loss of muscle strength and weakness in the morning
- Difficulty concentrating
- Memory loss
- Snoring loudly or choking in your sleep
- Fatigue during the day
More than 65 million people suffer from a type of sleep disorder and aging is the main cause of their occurrences. While it may be possible to suffer from sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, and be completely unaware of this during the evening, these interruptions in a woman’s sleeping patterns will most likely have a noticeably negative effect on her daily life and activities. Below is a list of common effects of sleep disorders:
Types of Sleep Disorders
- Insomnia – Inability to fall asleep and/or waking up frequently throughout the night.
- Sleep Apnea – A temporary cessation in breathing or shallow breaths while you sleep.
- Snoring – Often associated with sleep apnea, snoring is a loud and hoarse breathing that occurs during sleep due to obstructed air movement.
- Narcolepsy – Excessive daytime sleepiness in which a person experiences extreme fatigue and falls asleep at inappropriate times.
- Restless Leg Syndrome - Unpleasant sensation characterized by an urge to move one’s body to stop uncomfortable or odd sensations, usually occurring in the legs
- Night Sweats
Effects of Sleep Disorders
Impaired functioning of:
- Ability to learn new tasks
- Daily activities
- Driving or operating machinery
- Watching Diet
- Protecting one’s health
- Maintaining pleasant personal and business interactions
- Controlling emotional outbursts
- Overcoming depression
- Dealing with fatigue
Menopausal women are 40% more likely to experience insomnia while going through menopause than following menopause. Lack of sleep increases the woman’s daytime feelings of fatigue. Here is some information to help you to understand what is happening to your biological system that is causing these problems with your normal sleep.
Causes of Sleeping Disorders
A menopausal woman may develop sleep problems because of the hormonal imbalance that is taking place in her body. With the lowering of hormone levels, especially estrogen and progesterone, a woman’s sleep cycle will be affected in many ways.
The decreasing levels of estrogen can cause:
- reduction in the intake and manufacture of magnesium that the muscles need to relax
- disturbance of breathing while sleeping and a cause for sleep apnea
- cause of hot flashes while sleeping
The decreasing levels of progesterone can cause:
- wakefulness and reduces the natural tendency to sleep
- direct link to insomnia
Psychological stressors like work issues and personal relationships are aggravated by the normal biological changes going on in a menopausal woman’s chemical makeup. This combination of biological stressors added to already existing psychological stressors can cause serious psychological problems like early morning panic attacks, increased depression and health issues caused by the body’s weakened immune system.
Managing your Sleep Disorders
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
- Don’t lie in bed if you’re not sleepy
- Develop a habit of getting up out of bed at the same time each morning
- Don’t drink products that have caffeine
- Don’t smoke
- Practice exercising each day
- Don’t consume alcoholic beverages
- Don’t drink fluids at night
- Keep the noise level down
- Reserve your bed for sleeping
Daily Lifestyle Changes
For a menopausal woman to change her lifestyle, the investment in time and risk is minimal as she has only to add regular exercise, dietary restrictions of caffeine products and alcohol and to use of her bedroom only to sleep.
- Stress Reduction and Relaxation – Relaxation exercises, breathing exercises, massage, hypnosis, yoga and visualization techniques are all wonderful ways to promote sleep because it assists in minimizing the effects of stress on your body during menopause
- Exercise – Any activity that will increase your physical exertion can make a difference in your sleep disorders. Studies have shown that those with sleep disorders will encounter less episodes of sleeplessness once they adopt an exercise regime. Also, exercise not only helps one fall asleep and stay asleep easier, but it increases the length of the time that you sleep in the deepest stage of sleep
- Relax your Body - Treat yourself to a warm bath before you go to bed
- Read or Listen to Music – Enjoy low-key activities, such as reading or listening to relaxing music, about an hour before you go to bed
- Rid Yourself of Stress – Avoid worrying before you enter your bed
- Drink Warm Milk – Drinking warm milk is effective in promoting sleep because milk contains tryptophan, a chemical that may promote sleep in some people
Menopause Sleep Disorder Treatment
- Alternative Medicine – If her sleep cycle is still affected, the use of alternative medicine along with a change in lifestyle may be helpful. There are therapies available like massage, aromatherapy, hypnosis, as well as herbal supplements, that can help the menopausal woman reach her post menopause state when sleep disorders caused by menopause usually lessen.
- Black Cohosh One of the most commonly used herbal remedies is Black Cohosh, a perennial plant that is a member of the buttercup family. It provides powerful phytoestrogens that mimic the hormone’s effects and bind to hormone receptors in the uterus and other parts of the body, alleviating hot flashes. Black Cohosh is also known to relieve hot flashes efficiently and is a good alternative to HRT. It is also used effectively for treating PMS, arthritis and lowering blood pressure. Red Clover, Dong Quai, Ginseng, Kava and evening primrose oil can be used as natural therapies, although there are some risks involved. Herbal supplements are not as closely regulated as prescription drugs and the amount of the herbal product, quality and safety may vary between brands.
- Herbal Remedies – The two different herbs for treating sleep disorders are phytoestrogen and non-estrogenic herbs. Some of the most common phytoestrogen herbs are Saint Johns Wort, Black Cohosh and Dong Quai – all which contain estrogenic components produced by plants and replace some of the missing estrogen hormones experienced as a result of menopause. Although these herbs are known to maintain the balance of key neurotransmitters in the brain, they can also make your body less responsive to producing its own hormones, causing a further decrease of one’s hormone levels. Non-estrogenic herbs are known to nourish one’s hormonal glands into producing its own natural hormones. By stimulating one’s own hormone production, non-estrogenic herbs, such as Macafem. Macafem is grown in the Andes of Peru and has achieved great success in naturally increasing one’s hormone levels.
- Pharmaceutical Options – Prescription sleeping pills, such as Ambien, diphenhydramine (Sominex), doxylamine (Unisom) and many others are useful to treat sleep disorders, but they can become habit forming. Also, these chemical aids to sleeping don’t offer the REM sleep required in maintaining a healthy, psychologically unimpaired mind. The menopausal woman should discuss her options with her healthcare provider.
- Hormone Replacement Therapy – For more severe cases of sleep disorders, women may seek surgical or pharmaceutical treatments, although it is important to keep in mind that there are many studies showing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) increases a woman’s risk of elevated blood pressure, endometrial and breast cancers, strokes, blood clots and gallbladder disease. It is advised to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider.