Menopause: Why is It So Hard to Sleep?

With so many of my clients telling me they struggle to get a good night's sleep, I'm excited to feature this guest blog post by Alicia Sanchez, researcher for Tuck Sleep.

Some of the most common side effects of menopause can lead to sleep disturbances and insomnia. But, you need sleep to handle all the changes your body goes through during this transition period. Though menopause may make it tough to get a night of uninterrupted sleep, there are things you can do to help yourself get the rest you need.

Losing Sleep to Menopause

As menopause begins, the female body decreases the production of estrogen and progesterone. The changes in these essential hormones affect sleep (progesterone) and emotional stability (estrogen). Not only is it harder for you to fall and stay asleep, but other side effects of menopause like night sweats cause further sleep disturbances. Hot flashes and night sweats increase your body temperature, bringing you out of sleep and leaving you more alert.

As sleep disturbances increase, your risk of mental and emotional problems increases too. Whether you’re experiencing menopause or not, the emotional center of the brain changes how it functions during sleep deprivation by becoming more sensitive to negative stimuli. At the same time, when you’re tired, the part of the brain responsible for applying logic to your emotions becomes less active. Basically, you’re at higher risk for an increase in stress and emotional decision-making. The combination of sleep deprivation and reduced estrogen associated with menopause puts women at high risk for increased stress, anxiety, and depression

Women going through menopause are also more likely to experience other physical changes associated with the aging process. Changes in bladder control, early wake-up times, and reduced time spent in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep can also contribute to insomnia and daytime sleepiness. Around this same time, many women also experience stressful life changes like children leaving home which can cause increased stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness.

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There’s Hope for Better (and More) Sleep

You can reduce sleep disturbances during menopause. First, take a good look at your mattress. If it’s old and lumpy or doesn’t have good breathability, it might be time to look for one that supports your sleep style and current life situation. You might need to try a few mattresses until you find one with good airflow and comfort. Keep in mind that airbeds and innerspring mattresses offer some of the best breathability options.

There a few extra things you can do to help yourself get better sleep, such as:

  • Keep the Bedroom Cool: Most people sleep comfortably between 60 to 68 degrees. During menopause, you may need to reduce the temperature even more to counteract hot flashes. However, that might mean an extra blanket or two for your partner.

  • Prepare for Hot Flashes Before Bed: Try keeping a cold glass of water, extra pajamas, extra pillow and pillowcase, and a washcloth in an ice bucket near your bed. Getting back to sleep as soon as possible helps prevent the wakefulness that keeps you up for hours.

  • Healthy Diet and Exercise: Drinking caffeine or alcohol before bed can trigger hot flashes. An early, light dinner gives your body time to digest and prevents a rise in body temperature right before bed. Exercise improves all aspects of your health, but it also exhausts your body so that it’s easier to fall asleep.

Menopause is a time of change in a woman’s life. With a focus on good sleep, you can help yourself maintain the mental clarity you need to transition through and enjoy this new stage of life.

Alicia Sanchez is a researcher for the sleep science hub Tuck Sleep with a specialty in health and wellness. A Nashville native, Alicia finds the sound of summer storms so soothing that she still sleeps with recorded rain on her white noise machine.