Menopause Insomnia: Is It Your Bed or Your Head?
Menopause is known for having a series of effects on the body. The most notable of these symptoms are hot flashes, mood swings, and weight gain. Menopause can also increase the likelihood of insomnia. On average, women experience insomnia and other related sleep deprivation issues most during their post-menopausal years. What causes this increase in sleep problems for women as they go through menopause?
Estrogen and progesterone levels decrease during menopause. As a result, the systems that these hormones help regulate, perform more erratically. This decrease in hormones causes fluctuations in a woman's body that can affect everything from menstrual periods to sleep patterns.
What is Insomnia?
Insomnia is a sleep disorder that is described as an extreme difficulty to fall and stay asleep. People who suffer from insomnia generally experience symptoms like trouble falling asleep, waking up often during the night, and being unable to fall back asleep. This can leave the individual feeling perpetually tired throughout the day. Some people with insomnia may even feel too anxious to fall asleep.
How does menopause increase insomnia?
Progesterone is more commonly known for regulating the reproductive system during menstruation. However, it is also a sleep producing hormone that sends signals from our brain to our body that it's time to sleep. Since menopause decreases the production of progesterone in the body, it reduces our ability to sleep and can increase anxiety.
Not only does this decrease in progesterone decrease the likelihood of falling asleep, but other menopausal symptoms can also disrupt sleep habits. Hot flashes can occur during the night, making it difficult for women to fall back asleep as they can last anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes.
What other factors can affect insomnia during menopause?
While menopause can have a direct impact on sleep patterns, other factors can exacerbate these issues.
The most common and significant factor is stress. Stress can stem from any aspect of life, and heightened anxiety from stress can prevent the brain from producing sleep chemicals.
The three major sources of stress for women experiencing menopause are career, family, and personal relationships. When these aspects of personal life become sources of stress, they can stir feelings of anxiety and frustration: both of which can lead to insomnia. These emotions are so powerful that they can cause stimulants in the brain to remain active even when experiencing exhaustion. The mind then fixates on these issues/emotions and competes with the progesterone in the body. So while a woman may feel tired after a long, stressful day at work, those stress chemicals in the brain will interrupt the production of progesterone, which will still make her feel tired but unable to fall asleep entirely.
2) Preexisting Mental Health Issues
Women who are diagnosed with clinical depression, heightened anxiety (of any kind), or other mental health issues can have an even higher rate of insomnia as they go through menopause. Again, since the chemicals in the brain responsible for these emotions are imbalanced, they disrupt the production and regulation of progesterone and disrupt sleep patterns.
A large number of women find that insomnia is especially prevalent if they have been diagnosed with anxiety-based mental health issues. Coupled with menopause, this condition can become worse and increase the number of symptoms of insomnia that may not have been present prior to menopause.
3) Poor Eating Habits
The body can be affected by more than just hormone imbalances. Diet, nutrition, and exercise can affect sleep patterns for many women experiencing menopause. Consuming certain foods or beverages late in the afternoon or before bed can inflame insomnia symptoms. For women experiencing menopause, it's best not to drink stimulants like coffee, tea, or other caffeinated beverages a few hours before bed. Eating too late in the evening, or eating large quantities of food around dinner time can make the body uncomfortable before sleeping. As a result, women may feel nauseous or bloated before going to bed, and it may be difficult for them to fall asleep under those conditions.
4) Large Quantities of Travel
Traveling between different time zones during menopause can be especially troublesome for women. Traveling from one side of the world to the next can impact energy levels as the body attempts to transition between these time periods. For women experiencing menopause, jet lag can be particularly challenging to overcome since the natural hormones responsible for maintaining alertness are no longer being produced as consistently. If you travel for work or pleasure often, then it may be to your benefit to introduce new sleep schedules or even certain medications into your travel routine. Speak to your doctor about what methods you can implement to help reduce the impact of insomnia while traveling.
5) Mattresses, Pillows and More
While menopause can increase the likelihood of insomnia in women, certain environmental factors can have a greater influence on sleep patterns. The comfort of a mattress, a pillow, a blanket, or even the temperature can affect the ease with which menopausal women can fall asleep. One of the most common issues is temperature. Again, as women go through menopause, they experience hot flashes. These hot flashes can last for long periods of time, and when the room's temperature is equally warm, it can make sleeping highly uncomfortable.
Yet the other factors, like the comfort of your mattress and pillows, are surprisingly overlooked when it comes to insomnia. During sleep, the body tries to align itself into a relaxed position naturally. Muscles tension, curvatures of the spine, aching joints, and other discomforts can be lessened with the proper tools. While menopausal changes are certainly a contributing factor to insomnia, look to minimize the discomfort by changing out your mattress or pillows. It could go a long way.
Menopausal insomnia is a challenge to deal with on a nightly basis, but there are tools that you can use to help regain a healthy sleep schedule. For more information on how the body's natural sleep cycles are affected by menopause, read through these research studies to gain a better understanding of the possible solutions that are available to you if you experience insomnia.