Sweet sleep: where did it go and how to get it back
It’s 3.30 AM, and you’re wide awake. Again. Maybe you’re drenched in sweat, or your heart is racing, or your head is spinning, or maybe you’re experiencing all of the above, but whatever sensations you’re feeling right now, “sleepy” isn’t one of them.
“I sleep like a baby,” one perimenopausal woman told us.
“I wake up every two hours and cry.”
We hear from women all the time that interrupted sleep is one of the most frustrating symptoms of menopause. Even women who generally sleep well find their rest interrupted with night sweats and the resulting pajama and bedding changes.
So what’s the big deal over some lost zzzzzzs?
Not enough sleep is really, REALLY bad for us. Poor-quality sleep can exacerbate other menopause symptoms like mood swings, anxiety, depression, weight gain, and digestive issues. As a woman in perimenopause or menopause, you may have a weakened immune system which is further compromised when you don’t get good sleep. Even worse, being in menopause raises a woman’s risk of hypertension, heart disease and stroke; sleep deprivation can increase that risk.
What’s a woman to do?
May is Better Sleep Month, and to help you have better nights, we’re sharing some information on how to boost your snooze time.*
Sleep issue #1: night sweats
First of all, what’s happening? Well, one theory is that the hypothalamus – the part of your brain that regulates body temperature – gets confused by fluctuating estrogen levels into thinking the body is overheating. It opens up the body’s blood vessels and promotes sweating in an attempt to release excess heat, and voila! Night sweats.
How to handle it? Definitely a cool bedroom, light bedding and pajamas (wicking sheets and cool clothing can help you stay dry), no spicy food, coffee or alcohol in the hours before bedtime. And don’t smoke. Smoking can increase the severity of menopause symptoms. Exercise daily, but earlier in the day to avoid raising your body temperature too close to bedtime.
Some women have good results with natural remedies such as black cohosh, evening primrose oil, acupuncture for menopause symptoms or meditation; others may find relief with supplements like Estroven or Macafem. However, before adding any supplement, be sure to talk with your doctor; even natural remedies can interfere with medications you may be taking or have side effects.
There are menopause prescription remedies – hormone replacement therapy (HRT), low-dose depression medications, even a blood pressure medication – that may help with night sweats, but as always, talk to your doctor about benefits and risks.
Sleep issue #2: depression and anxiety
What’s happening? Without estrogen’s calming influence on our cortisol, our stress response can get a little wonky, ramping up stress and anxiety. Depression can also be prompted or worsened by changes in hormone levels.
How to handle it? Lifestyle changes can go a long way to helping women reduce stress and sleep better. Eating a healthy diet with less sugar, caffeine, and alcohol can help. Many women report balancing their stress levels by taking a magnesium glycinate supplement at bedtime or taking up yoga or meditation. There are prescription treatments, but lifestyle changes are often less invasive and should be considered first.
Sleep issue #3: sleep apnea
What’s happening? If you’ve ever woken up feeling like you’re choking or gasping, you may be experiencing sleep apnea in menopause. Disordered breathing during sleep often worsens in women during and post-menopause. Estrogen and progesterone help maintain muscle tone, and, according to The National Institute of Health, that includes the muscles around our airways. When those hormone levels drop, airways can partially collapse during sleep, causing increased snoring and the interrupted breathing of sleep apnea.
Sleep apnea may not even entirely awaken you, but the quality of your sleep can be reduced by these gaps and pauses in ordinary breathing.
How to handle it? Sleep apnea can be a real health risk, so if you’re experiencing apnea symptoms, or if your partner reports a notable increase in snoring, you should consult a doctor or sleep specialist. Apnea can be worsened by excess weight, so managing your weight can be a significant help. HRT has been shown to help some women with sleep issues, including apnea, or your doctor or specialist for menopause may recommend a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine to help you breathe more regularly.
We all know that little can beat the restorative power of a really good night’s sleep. It regulates our mood, controls our appetite, gives us energy, helps us ward off disease, and is just so darn comfy and cozy. Protect your zzzzzs by making some healthy lifestyle changes and talking with your doctor about risks and options.
*The information contained in this blog is not intended to replace expert advice from a medical professional.
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