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September 05, 2022
Are you approaching the stage in your life when menopause is starting to set in? You may be prepared to deal with things like hot flashes and mood swings, but menopause also affects things that you might not fully expect, including your quality of sleep. For most women, this is a temporary adjustment that starts to even out after that initial menopausal change, but it's still something that can cause quite a disturbance in your life. Recently there has been much research done on menopause and many science-backed solutions developed to help women ease the transition into menopause.
Although menopause doesn't occur until later in life, you may start to see the first signs of it in your late 30s and early 40s—namely, insomnia. Many women start to complain to their doctors around this time that they have a hard time falling asleep or wake up frequently throughout the night. This is because perimenopause and, eventually, menopause cause your ovaries to produce less estrogen and progesterone, which are hormones that help to produce sleep. Even though you may not be fully in menopause at this time, you'll start to notice that it is approaching if you suddenly have trouble sleeping when you never did before.
Another reason for menopausal insomnia is because of hot flashes. This is likely a symptom that you've already heard of, as it is the most well-known side effect of menopause. The sudden, unexpected surge of adrenaline not only makes your brain feel like it's working a mile a minute, but it also causes you to feel overheated and even sweaty, which can be very disruptive to sleep. Recent sleep studies have found that the optimal temperature for sleep is quite cool, around 60 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperatures that fall too far below or above this range can lead to restlessness. Temperatures in this range help facilitate the decrease in core body temperature that in turn initiates sleepiness. A growing number of studies are finding that temperature regulation plays a role in many cases of chronic insomnia. Researchers have shown, for example, that insomniacs tend to have a warmer core body temperature than normal sleepers just before bed, which leads to heightened arousal and a struggle to fall asleep. For troubled sleepers, a cool room and a hot-water bottle placed at the feet, which rapidly dilates blood vessels and therefore actually helps lower core temperature, can push the internal thermostat to a better setting.
If you're suffering from menopausal insomnia, you're also likely wondering how to treat it. Unfortunately, there is no steadfast cure for this type of sleep deprivation, but there are a few things that you can do to make yourself more comfortable while you're struggling to find that elusive sleep.
If you're having trouble sleeping because of hot flashes, lowering the room temperature and taking precautions against night sweats are both great ways to make yourself more comfortable. Doctors recommend sleeping in a room that is two to three degrees cooler than the temperature you keep it at during the daytime, as humans tend to overheat during the night. Turn down the thermostat or open windows to get air flow if the outside air is cool enough to maintain a cool room.
To combat night sweats, invest in a pair of moisture-wicking pajamas that wick moisture away from the skin and keep your temperature regulated so you stay dry all night long. These pajamas are made of a fabric that prevents the bacteria that causes odor, so you'll stay fresh and free of sweat. You can also switch your bedding to temperature-regulating sheets or cooling bed covers to help with temperature regulation. These innovative bedding options help to regulate temperature by absorbing heat away from the skin and releasing it back once your temperature evens out.
Some people find success with eliminating spicy foods from their diets before bedtime or overall. These types of foods make hot flashes worse and can cause you to lie awake at night sweating, tossing and turning. You may also want to avoid alcohol or caffeine before bedtime, and quit smoking if you can. All of these lifestyle choices are shown to make hot flashes and night sweats worse, and even if making these changes doesn't completely cure your menopausal insomnia, cutting them out will certainly make you more comfortable.
Even more serious, menopause can often cause extreme stress and even depression in some women. These changes can be very disruptive to both your waking life and your quality of sleep. If you find yourself tossing and turning at night and feel like stress and depressed thoughts are keeping you awake at night, it's always a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Author: Anita Mahaffey: Environmental sleep specialist, CEO & Founder of Cool-jams Sleep Products