It's Not Just You. Sleeping Well Gets Harder in Menopause.
Insomnia affects thousands of women as they go through menopause every day. Women find themselves having more difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings are just some of the things that menopausal women may experience in addition to insomnia. In fact, most women who experience insomnia during menopause report waking up in the night due to extremely uncomfortable hot flashes, called night sweats.
Why does the likelihood of insomnia increase during menopause? Why do over 60 percent of women postmenopausal insomnia? What can women do to get a better night's sleep if they do experience insomnia during the stages of menopause?
What Menopause Does to the Brain
When the brain is prepared to fall asleep, it sends out neurotransmitters called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine helps regulate a variety of functions: concentration, emotions, learning, dreaming, and, most importantly, sleeping. Progesterone, one of the hormones responsible for regulating menstruation, also helps promote sleepiness.
Menopause decreases the production of progesterone, which causes stimulating neurotransmitters in the brain to promote feelings of anxiety. The brain sends these signals to the rest of the nervous system and keeps you awake instead of letting you fall asleep. This imbalance can make you feel restless, nervous, and mentally preoccupied when trying to go to sleep.
How Do Hot Flashes Affect Insomnia?
Hot flashes are a common symptom of menopause. Described as intense rises in body heat, hot flashes can last anywhere from thirty seconds to ten minutes and can happen periodically throughout the day. They can be especially distracting during the day when trying to complete tasks. However, most women cite hot flashes being the most problematic during the night as they try to sleep.
Hot flashes can cause profuse sweating, which can be especially uncomfortable for women during the night. Waking up to sweat-drenched blankets, pillows, sheets, and mattresses can make it difficult to fall back asleep. Turning down the temperature may seem like a good idea in the moment, but it can end up making the experience worse. As the air conditioner cools the room, the damp blankets and sheets become cold as well. Sleeping on cold, wet patches of blankets can be just as uncomfortable for women. Most women report staying up for hours before finally being able to fall back asleep after experiencing hot flashes at night.
Stress + Menopause = No Sleep
With the hormonal imbalances that menopause causes, the chances of suffering from insomnia are very likely. Adding stress to the mix increases those chances significantly. Hormone regulation decreases during menopause, which means that the hormones responsible for controlling mood fluctuates.
So how does stress affect both mood swings and insomnia? Stress is caused by an increase in adrenaline, the hormone commonly associated with the fight or flight response in confrontational survival situations. Stress triggers its own fight or flight response, regardless of the circumstances of the situation. Work stress, family stress, relationship stress can all add to the frustration, which increases adrenaline and prepares you to attempt to deal with these issues.
An excess of adrenaline causes the body to become restless and the mind to become increasingly active. When this hyperarousal of adrenaline occurs, the mind sends signals to the rest of the body that it should stay awake. You may find yourself taking 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep, or you may find yourself pacing back and forth across the carpet, staring at the bed instead of actually sleeping in it.
For most women experiencing stress-induced insomnia, they turn that nervous energy toward the source of the stress, work. Late-night spreadsheets, emails, and financial reports can worsen stress. Feeding that stress before going to bed traps the mind in that adrenaline loop, making it impossible for many women to fall asleep. So while norepinephrine in the brain may cause the body to feel tired, the adrenaline competes with that norepinephrine and forces you to stay awake.
With so many factors that feed into insomnia, how can women who are experiencing these symptoms get a decent night's sleep?
There are a few things women can do to help reduce insomnia and fix their sleep schedules.
Reduce Caffeine Intake
Stimulants like caffeine can keep the body's levels of adrenaline high throughout the day. If you typically drink six cups of coffee throughout the workday, slowly siphon off your caffeine intake over an extended period of time. Start the first week off by consuming one less cup of coffee in a day, then repeat that process the week after. Keep repeating that process until you've limited your caffeine intake into one to two cups of coffee a day.
Take Supplements to Help You Throughout the Day
Many people rely on caffeine to keep them going throughout the day and limiting the consumption of coffee or tea can cause withdrawal symptoms. So what can they do to maintain their energy levels without consuming too much caffeine? There are a variety of vitamins and supplements that you can take to help increase and maintain your energy levels throughout the day without the need for caffeine consumption. Vitamin B-12, methyl folate, and other supplements can help the body maintain healthy levels of energy. Talk to your doctor about what supplements might be best for you and how you can use them to help keep your energy constant throughout the day.
Set an Alarm and Keep to It
It may seem counterintuitive, but waking up at the same time every day can help get your body into a regular sleep pattern and reduce insomnia. You may go to bed at 9 o'clock but not be able to fall asleep until midnight. To help get the body into a regular sleep cycle, wake up at the same time every day, regardless of how tired you may feel. Waking up at 7 o'clock in the morning could actually help you fall asleep around 9 o'clock at night. Starting the day off at a regular time prepares the body to fall into a natural circadian rhythm. So rather than snoozing that alarm for another ten minutes, create a motivation to get out of bed even if you feel exhausted.
Understanding the effects of menopause on insomnia is the first step in finding the best solution. These research studies can provide insight into the side effects and symptoms of menopausal insomnia.