Having trouble sleeping can be a common side effect of the menopause, and it can also be one of the more challenging symptoms to deal with.
Difficulty sleeping, or insomnia, affects many women during the menopause. Insomnia can be caused by a drop in hormones during the menopause, as well as some other key menopause symptoms, including night sweats and anxiety, and also certain lifestyle factors. However, steps can be taken to help reduce the effects.
This post looks at the different factors that can cause problems with sleeping during the menopause, and what you can do to help make things more comfortable and get a better night's rest.
How does the menopause affect sleep?
During the menopause, many women experience sleep problems. They may have difficulty getting to sleep, wake up frequently during the night, or find themselves wide awake in the early hours of the morning.
There are a number of factors which can contribute to insomnia, including hormone changes, night sweats, anxiety or mood issues, and some social and lifestyle factors.
A lack of sleep can have a significant impact on all areas of your life. It can cause a lack of energy or fatigue, make you feel irritable or depressed, cause problems with your memory and concentration, and impact on your work and relationships.
Hormone changes and the menopause
As women approach the menopause, they experience a fall in two key hormones: oestrogen, and progesterone, a hormone which helps to induce sleep.
These falling levels of hormones are believed to affect the part of the brain which helps to control body temperature, emotions and sleep patterns, and this can result in a number of side effects including night sweats, mood issues and problems with sleeping.
Night sweats are a common feature of the menopause. Changing levels of hormones affect the body's internal 'thermostat', making it think that you are too hot and triggering a cooling response, which leads to a raised heart rate and increased sweating.
Night sweats, which are related to hot flushes (or hot flashes), are episodes of excessive sweating which occur during the night, making you feel very uncomfortable and making it difficult to sleep.
How can I reduce menopause night sweats?
To reduce the effects of night sweats and help promote a better night's sleep, consider the following tips:
- Create the right environment – a bedroom that's too warm can make it difficult to get to sleep and can encourage night sweats. Make sure your bedroom is dark, cool and well ventilated. Try opening a window or using a fan. Instead of a duvet, use light bedsheets made from a natural material such as cotton or bamboo. Using blackout curtains, ear plugs and a sleep mask can help to block out any unwanted lights and sounds, and promote a deeper and more restful sleep
- Wear breathable nightclothes – wearing loose, comfortable nightwear made from natural fibres can help to keep you cool. The Live Better with community recommends bamboo pyjamas, which are naturally soft, comfortable and moisture absorbent
- Use a cooling gel mat – to make yourself more comfortable and to help alleviate night sweats, try using a cooling mat. These are gel pads which can be inserted into your pillowcase, providing a cool and relaxing surface. You may also want to try using a cooling gel eye mask:
“I really enjoy putting this on before I go to sleep. It helps soothe my head and cools my temperature right down.” Live Better With community member
Anxiety and the menopause
Many women who are going through the menopause can experience anxiety or depression. The menopause marks a new phase in your life, and as you approach this phase there are a number of factors which can make you feel worried and anxious, making it difficult to get to sleep, or causing you to wake up early.
While some instances of depression can be linked to a reduction in oestrogen levels, other issues can also play a significant part.
Some of these anxieties may be related to your own personal situation. It may be that you are caring for ageing parents, or that your children are starting out in life or going away to university. You may find yourself reflecting on your own life at this time.
With a potential combination of changing hormones, uncomfortable night sweats, and other significant changes going on in your personal life, it's hardly surprising if you are feeling anxious or down!
How can I reduce anxiety during the menopause?
If you're suffering from anxiety, there are a number of things you can try to help feel calmer:
- Try some relaxation techniques – many women find that breathing exercises, guided meditation or mindfulness techniques can help. The Live Better With community recommend the Little Book of Mindfulness, which offers a range of short exercises to help you relax and focus on the moment at hand.
- Put it in writing – if you find that you are lying awake at night worrying, try writing down your worries in a journal, or using a 'worry jar'. Putting things in writing can help give a voice to your problems and clear your mind ready for sleep. Keep a notebook and pen by the bed ready to catch those niggling thoughts!
- Get reading – self-help books on insomnia are available, which help you to look at the reasons behind your sleeplessness and help you to break the cycle. Try 'This book will make you sleep'; or 'The effortless sleep method':
“Having just had my first brush with insomnia I cannot say how relieved I am to have come across this gem of a book.“ Yasmin, Live Better With community member
- Talk to someone – if you're struggling with your symptoms, it can be helpful to talk to someone, such as a friend, family member, your doctor or a trained counsellor. Local support groups and social media can also be a good source of help and advice.
Lifestyle and the menopause
Some lifestyle factors and habits can also contribute to problems with sleeping, including certain foods and drinks. You can help to limit these effects by:
- Eating a balanced diet – have regular mealtimes, and avoid eating large meals late in the day as this can cause insomnia.
- Cut down on alcohol, caffeine and spicy foods – these can all make it more difficult to get to sleep, and they are also known to trigger hot flushes and night sweats. Try swapping that cup of tea or coffee for a relaxing herbal brew, such as chamomile.
- Avoiding smoking – as this is also known to promote insomnia and night sweats.
- Taking regular exercise – exercise can help to regulate hormones, and it will make you feel more naturally tired, promoting better sleep at night. Doing some gentle exercise, such as walking or yoga, will also help you feel happier and more relaxed, as it stimulates the production of endorphins, your body's natural 'happy' hormone. Don't exercise too close to bedtime though.
How can I sleep better during the menopause?
As well as the tips above, there are some other key things you can do to encourage good sleeping habits and help alleviate insomnia during the menopause:
- Establish a routine – try to go to bed and get up at the same time every day, to get your body into a rhythm. Avoid napping if you can, as this can interfere with your quality of sleep at night.
- Ditch the blue screens – avoid watching television, using mobile devices or surfing the internet in the hours leading up to bedtime, as the light can interfere with your body's sleep patterns.
- Do something relaxing – reading a book or doing a simple task such as colouring can help you to de-stress and prepare for sleep. The Live Better With community recommend the Can't sleep adult colouring book.
- Try a natural remedy – essential oils and other natural remedies can also help to induce a feeling of calm and relaxation. Try spraying a lavender sleep spray on your pillow, or using a calming aromatherapy candle. The Live Better With community also recommend Badger night night and sleep balm:
“Helps relaxation in a time of stress and constant thoughts, and helped me to sleep.” Live Better With community member
If you find that you are struggling with the symptoms of the menopause, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor. Some women find that hormone replacement therapy can reduce night sweats and insomnia. Other medications that may help include a low-dose birth control pill, anti-depressants or other prescription medicines.
However, it is generally advisable to only use such remedies for the shortest possible time. Putting in place good sleeping habits as outlined above can help you to counteract the effects of insomnia for the long term and live better with the menopause.