The Reasons We Don’t Sleep Well During Menopause

by Kathryn Pinkham
A woman takes a nap on her desk

Did you know that over 60% of women report that their sleep gets worse during menopause? So, if you’ve found menopause and the hormonal changes associated with it have seen your sleep suffer, you are not alone.

In fact, there are many things that can have a direct impact on our quality of sleep. From diet and lifestyle to stress and alcohol, many factors can affect our ability to sleep well. However, many of us don’t realise how much of an impact our hormones can have. So, what is the link between sleep, and our hormones?

The answer is that our hormones depend on the sleep-wake cycle to be in balance and stay regulated. In fact, sleep is heavily involved in the production of hormones such as cortisol, estrogen, progesterone, hunger hormones, and melatonin, and these all relate to our stress, appetite, and female hormones. This means that if we’re not getting regular adequate or quality sleep, all those hormones can be affected.

What’s more, anyone who’s experienced menopause will know the pain of hot flushes. These occur with the drop in estrogen levels, which controls the part of our brain that helps regulate body temperature. Understandably, these hot flushes can also impact our ability to sleep well.

A woman sits and thinks relaxed at home

So, how can we minimise the impact of hormones on our sleep, and take steps to ensure we’re sleeping well and living better despite the effects of menopause?

Don’t spend too long in bed.
Spending too much time in bed or going to bed too early can damage our sleep cycle. This is because it reduces our appetite for sleep. So, even if your symptoms make you feel more tired, don’t go to bed too early. Instead, try and relax downstairs or watch a bit of TV in the living room until your usual or even slightly later bedtime. Also, however badly you’ve slept, in the morning make sure you get up and out of bed at your usual time and get your day started. Remember, lying in bed after a rubbish night’s sleep never makes us feel better.

Manage your stress levels.
If you know you’re going through a time when your hormones will make you feel more irritated and annoyed, find stress-busting techniques that work for you. It’s important to not just rely on sleep to give you energy as this adds more pressure to it. Whether it’s a ten-minute walk in the fresh air or practising mindfulness, make sure you make time for managing your stress as this will in turn boost energy levels.

If you can’t sleep – get out of bed.
Most of us find that when we wake in the night and can’t get back to sleep- we feel wound up and anxious. This is creating a negative association between bed and sleep and is one of the main reasons why sleep issues continue. So if you have a hot flush or are woken with anxiety or stress- rather than lying there- get up and go downstairs. Read or watch TV or do something you enjoy as this will distract you from thinking about sleep. When you feel tired again go back to bed- over time this creates a healthier connection between bed and sleep.

Write things down.
Regardless of whether you’re going through menopause or not, writing stuff down is a great daily practice to get into. It’s a therapeutic way of seeing things in black and white and realising that things are never as bad as they seem. Equally, having things written down in front of us enables us to see what we can and can’t control. When it comes to sleep, it’s a way for us to pass a message to our brain saying, ‘I am dealing with this and giving it the time it deserves, but I don’t need to do it at 3 am!’

Banish hot flushes.
If it’s hot flushes impacting your sleep, learn techniques to help manage how they make you feel. For example, take some deep breaths and bring yourself back into the moment if you wake with a hot flush. Don’t let the panic of a hot flush take over. A really good technique is to ground yourself by focusing on things around you. For example, what does the pillow feel like on your cheek? What does the bedding smell like? What can you hear in your room? It’s about calming yourself down, rather than allowing your brain to spiral and think: ‘I’m going to be exhausted tomorrow.’

Acceptance.
Accept you’ll experience some poor sleep. Yes, if you’re going through menopause, you may experience poor sleep. However, remember that your body can cope with periods of sleep loss; we are designed too. So instead manage your stress around poor sleep, take on some CBT-I techniques but above all, accept that right now you can’t control this entirely so raise your coping beliefs and try to let your sleep worries go.

Don’t rely on HRT alone.
Whilst HRT can impact positively on estrogen levels, which can help other things, it’s important to know that if you develop insomnia during menopause, HRT alone won’t fix the problem. This is because, despite HRT possibly fixing all your other symptoms, poor sleep is now a learnt behaviour. However, there’s no need to panic, like all habits and learnt behaviours, we can fix it!

If you’re struggling with your sleep due to menopause, why not try my  Menopause Insomnia Online Course specifically for women struggling with sleep during menopause? This course will teach you how to fall asleep easily and sleep through the night, and many people see improvements in just a few days.

Providing simple information and a step-by-step process to fix your sleep, the course will clearly guide you through the simple steps to improve your sleep, including everything you would receive in face-to-face sessions. Plus, I am there to provide ongoing support throughout the entire programme.

“I’ve suffered with insomnia on and off for the last 10 years, but it’s become more chronic over the last two years due to menopause and my anxiety over it. My latest episode started a few weeks ago so I got started with Kathryn’s course. Above all else I feel positive again and the fear of relapse no longer haunts me. Thank you so much!” – Louise Caroline

 

About the author, Kathryn Pinkham

Add Kathryn Pinkham’s talk to your festival program: Sleep & Insomnia with Kathryn Pinkham

 

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