You can read more about the menopause in our topic, Menopause and Sleep.
What Is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a disorder that keeps you from getting the adequate sleep that your body needs every night to recover from and process the day’s events. You may have a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or even getting up in the morning. More specifically, people with insomnia may:
- Take thirty minutes or more to fall asleep
- Get fewer than six hours of sleep on three or more nights each week
- Wake up before their alarm goes off, and not be able to go back to sleep
- Not feel rested or refreshed after sleeping
- Feel sleepy or tired during the day
- Worry about the quality of their sleep on a regular basis
Overtime, the loss of quality sleep can be detrimental to your mental and physical health. Not only will you feel tired, but insomnia could also make you feel anxious, stressed, or irritated. You could also have a hard time concentrating or remembering things. Plus, poor sleep could lead to you suffering from an upset stomach. Read more about how sleep is important for your health here.
If you’re going through the menopause, struggling with menopausal symptoms are bad enough on their own. The last thing you need is more difficult symptoms that are due to not getting enough sleep.
Is There A Connection Between Menopause and Insomnia?
About 61% of women who are in the postmenopausal stage experience frequent bouts of insomnia. Going through the menopause can affect your sleep cycle on three different levels.1
1) Hormone Changes
Your progesterone levels decrease during the menopause. Progesterone is a sleep-producing hormone, so the changes in this hormone level can trigger a change in your sleeping habits. As your progesterone levels dwindle, you may find it harder to fall asleep, and stay asleep.2
2) Hot Flushes
Hot flushes, or hot flashes, and night sweats are two of the most common side effects of the menopause. As your hormone levels fluctuate, you may feel as if you’re having sudden surges and drops in your body temperature. Instead, you’re actually experiencing a surge of adrenaline that’s caused by the rapid decrease of hormones. This is the same chemical that’s responsible for your reaction to stress or a fight-or-flight scenario. Your body may have a hard time recovering from this sudden surge of energy, making it difficult for you to get back to sleep.3
Just as natural and hormonal changes can interfere with your sleep, so can changes caused by any medications or supplements that you’re taking.4 Sleep disturbance can be a side-effect of many medications. If you’re beginning a new medicine or using over-the-counter supplements, check with your doctor about any side effects that could be keeping you awake at night-time.
To find out what else can lead to insomnia, have a look at our topic, Insomnia, for more information.
How Is Insomnia Diagnosed?
Your doctor will focus on your sleeping habits. This will normally include when you would wake up, go to sleep, and how tired you feel during the day. They may also ask if you have restless nights or sleep soundly. Plus, your doctor may want you to keep a sleep diary for a period of time – while this may seem like a hassle if you want a quick fix, it’s actually a great way to monitor your sleep. A sleep diary will help your doctor check for patterns that they can recognise as signs of insomnia, or another sleeping disorder.
Your doctor could also want to check for any underlying conditions that may cause insomnia, so it’s possible that they’ll carry out a physical exam. If your doctor is unable to determine why you’re not sleeping well, they may refer you to a sleep expert.
Is Insomnia Treated Differently When It’s Linked to Menopause?
If your insomnia is linked to menopause, you may find relief through balancing your hormone levels. There are several ways to do this, including Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), low-dose birth control, low-dose antidepressants, or even taking melatonin. Melatonin is the sleep hormone, so taking it could help you feel more tired when you want to get to sleep.5
However, you should always consult your doctor about these methods of relieving your menopausal symptoms. Your doctor can talk you through the medications, any side effects, and which method is right for you. Do not take any treatments without talking to your doctor first.
Are There Other Ways to Treat Insomnia?
While many causes of insomnia don’t have cures or treatments, there are a few things you can do to help yourself sleep well to get through the menopause a bit better.
Establish a Healthy Sleeping Environment
Sometimes the reason you’re struggling with insomnia is something that we wouldn’t normally think of – the bedroom. You should have a bedroom that’s cool, dark, and quiet. The ideal room temperature is between 16°C and 18°C, with the absolute maximum being 24°C.6
Also, make sure that you’re sleeping in a room that is as dark as possible. Turn off all the lights, and even turn off your phone. The blinking lights of your mobile phone, or the screen lighting up, can alert your brain even when you’re asleep. You could be waking up during the night because of this. It’s also a good idea to minimise any light that comes into your room from outside, whether it’s sunlight or artificial light from the streetlamp. Consider blockout curtains if light is disturbing your sleep. Our blockout curtains boast a 90 – 95% blockout, and you can have a look at them here.
Your room should also be as quiet as possible. Turn off the radio or TV, remove ticking clocks, and shut down any appliances to help lull yourself into a good night’s sleep.
When Do You Eat?
If you have a slight snack or a glass of milk before you go to bed, this likely won’t interfere with your sleep. However, tucking into a big meal before you climb into bed could be a recipe for a restless night. Going to sleep on a full stomach may cause heartburn and acid reflux, both of which could make you uncomfortable while you sleep. This will make you more likely to wake up during the night. Eating earlier in the evening is a good way to help yourself sleep more soundly. You can read more about how food affects your sleep here.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Finding a way to unwind and relax after a long day can help you ease into a restful sleep. Gentle yoga or mild stretching before going to bed could help you calm your mind and feel more relaxed – the perfect state you should be in when going to sleep. You could also try mindfulness, a way of relaxing by focusing on the moment and going through your senses. Find out more about how mindfulness can help you sleep well here.
Quit Smoking and Avoid Alcohol
If you smoke, you may find that sleep is even more elusive during perimenopause and the menopause. The nicotine in tobacco products is a stimulant, and this can prevent your brain from relaxing enough to let you fall asleep.7 It’s the same with drinking – while alcohol is a sedative, the effect won’t last. Alcohol prevents deep stages of restorative sleep, so the sleep that you’re getting isn’t doing much for your body as you’re not getting the recovery that your body needs. Plus, alcohol can lead to bathroom trips during the night, and you might struggle to get back to sleep. Therefore, by quitting smoking and reducing your alcohol consumption, you could help yourself sleep well again. You’ll also improve your general health, and this’ll help your sleep.
Take A Nap
Napping isn’t just for children – everyone can benefit from it. While you can’t just put your head down anytime while at work, why not take a power nap during your lunch? If you can get a quick nap, take it, but don’t nap for more than twenty minutes. If you do, you could fall into a deeper sleep that’ll be harder to wake up from. Instead of feeling refreshed and energised, you could feel groggy and perhaps even more tired than before your nap.
If you’re struggling to stay awake, get a glass of water. Water can help to keep your natural energy up.8
Listen to Your Body
As you age, your internal clock changes. If you always stayed up late, you may find that you now want to go to sleep earlier. Or, if you were an early bird, you might now get up a bit later in the morning. If this is the case, change your sleep routine – your body is changing, so your sleeping needs are changing, too. By listening to your body, you could sleep well again.9
Remember, these are only ideas for how you could improve your sleep. Insomnia can be a challenge to overcome, especially with menopausal symptoms keeping you from feeling your best. Likewise, insomnia could make menopausal symptoms even worse. Consult your doctor if you’re struggling to sleep well. Your doctor can talk you through how to relieve symptoms of menopause and insomnia, while also looking for anything else that could be keeping you from getting a good night’s sleep.