It’s definitely not fun! Right when you could use sleep the most — due to all the physical and emotional symptoms of early menopause — you can’t sleep.
Maybe it’s night sweats keeping you up, or maybe it’s just plain old insomnia… but whatever the reason, you’re lying in bed, tossing and turning, staring at the ceiling in the dark, and wishing that you’d fall asleep.
Insomnia is one of the more typical menopausal symptoms, unfortunately. In the past, it was generally believed that insomnia was a result of night sweats. You couldn’t sleep because night sweats were waking you up… and keeping you awake.
However, researchers have shed new light on a type of menopause-related insomnia that isn’t caused by sweats. It may be connected with the drop in the brain chemical serotonin that occurs when your estrogen levels decline. Or it could simply occur due to disturbances from your fluctuating hormones.
Whatever the reason, there’s no question that with menopause comes insomnia. It’s usual for the frequency of insomnia to double from what you used to experience when you were pre-menopausal. And studies have shown that women usually begin to experience restless sleep as much as five to seven years before menopause hits.
It winds up being a bit of a vicious circle. When you’re not getting enough sleep, you usually wind up getting more stressed, moodier and more irritable — which, as we all know, are symptoms we often get when our hormone levels are dropping.
The culprit appears to be the lack of REM sleep — the deepest, most rejuvenating sleep. Without good REM sleep, you get more stressed out… which makes you more prone to insomnia… which leaves you more stressed… and so the cycle continues.
So how can you stop tossing and turning and get the sleep you need? Usually getting on the right combination of hormone replacement can banish insomnia, since it will stabilize your hormone levels. Similarly, herbs, vitamins and phytoestrogens that help with menopausal symptoms often can make a difference.
In addition, disturbed sleep patterns typically level off after a few years. But, since you probably don’t want to wait a few years for a good night’s sleep, there are other things that can help. Here are some coping strategies that might help your situation right now sleep-wise… as well as some ideas for long-term improvement.
Coping With Insomnia: What Can You Do Right Now To Get Some Sleep?
• Drink a cup of chamomile tea — It’s calming, soothing and just might help you get a little shut-eye.
• Keep the bedroom cool — Cooler rooms help you to sleep, plus, if you’re suffering from night sweats, it’ll bring some much needed relief!
• Put some socks on — I know, this sounds a little strange, particularly if you’re awake due to night sweats… but cold feet can keep you awake. And often your extremities are still cold even when you’re in the midst of flashes or night sweats.
• Try to breathe deeply and rhythmically — Even try breathing to a count: inhale, hold and exhale to the count of three at each stage. This guide published by Harvard is a great primer on the use of relaxation techniques.
• Tense and release the muscles in your body, one by one — Often when you’re suffering with insomnia, you tighten your muscles, which makes you feel more tense and less relaxed. Go through the muscles in your body one by one and focus on tightening them, then releasing them. This type of stretching can help you remain mindful of the tension in your body.
• If you have herbs in the house, try a couple of valerian capsules — Valerian is a natural sedative, and it is believed to help promote better sleep. (One note, though: the available evidence suggests that valerian might be most effective in regulating sleep patterns over a period of time.)
• Or try some kava kava — It’s a herb that has sedative properties, which can help you to sleep.
And, remember, before reaching for the herbal remedies: Try chatting about your situation with your doctor so you can figure out a plan of action together.
What Can You Do Over the Longer Term to Improve Your Sleep?
• Keep a regular schedule — The regularity of going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day can help you monitor and maintain healthy levels of sleep.
• Give yourself some “wind-down” time before you go to bed — Try not to get too stressed. Instead take a half-hour or so before bedtime and relax! Try reading a book or taking a bath… anything that will calm you down before you hit the sack.
• Exercise every day — Just thirty minutes of exercise daily can help your body de-stress.
• BUT don’t exercise just before bedtime — And, for that matter, avoid any activity (mental or physical) that’s too strenuous. Strenuous activity up to three hours before bedtime can energize your body at a time you need calm, and interfere with your attempts to fall asleep.
• Steer clear of stimulants like caffeine or nicotine for up to four hours before bedtime — These will rev you up and interfere with your sleep.
• Also recognize that an alcoholic “nightcap” might hurt more than it will help — Alcohol might make you feel drowsy, but it can interfere with your ability to sleep soundly.
• Avoid certain hard-to-digest foods within four hours of bedtime — Foods like onions, beans, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, protein and spicy foods might keep you up.
• Take a warm shower or bath 90 minutes before bedtime — This causes your body temperature to first rise, then go back down to normal, which can help make you sleepy.
• Try meditation or relaxation exercises every night before you go to bed — Just a few minutes can make the stress of the day roll off of you… making you more able to sleep.
• Finally, if all else fails, turn on the light or get up — Instead of tossing and turning, try to relax in another way. Read for a little while; get up and go into the living room… anything that calms you. Sometimes the best way to finally get some sleep is to not try for a little while, rather than forcing it.