Sleep disturbance is something that a lot of women experience whilst going through menopause, and as anyone who has ever had their sleep interrupted will know - that’s a bit of a nightmare.
How and how much sleep is interrupted varies from one person to the next. Some women struggle to get to sleep but then they get a full night’s rest, while others wake during the night for a myriad of reasons, from night sweats to needing to go to the toilet. However you experience it, sleep disturbance in menopause generally comes from the same cause - a drop in hormones.
In this article we look at why sleep is important, how it can be disrupted during menopause and what you can do to help.
Why is sleep important?
Sleep is important because it helps us recharge both mind and body, it helps us stay alert when we’re away, remain healthy and stave off disease. Put simply, without enough sleep, we can’t function properly.
What’s interesting however, is that not all sleep is created equal. During the night we go through sleep cycles from REM (rapid eye movement) and non-REM (non-rapid eye movement) sleep states, which are further subdivided into light sleep and deep sleep - broadly speaking.
It’s deep sleep where we gain the most health benefits, giving our brains a rest, helping to organise memory and even flushing out waste from the brain as the glymphatic system “mingles ‘fresh’ cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) with waste product–rich brain interstitial fluid (ISF) and flushes the fluid and waste products out of the brain and into the systemic circulation.”
Other benefits of deep sleep include:
- Growth and development of the body
- Cell regeneration
- Energy restoration
- Repairing tissues and bones
- Supporting the immune system
- On balance, it’s estimated that about 20% of your overall sleep will be deep, but that tends to lessen as you get older.
Meanwhile, not getting enough sleep is linked to a variety of issues including attention lapses, reduced cognition, delayed reactions and mood shifts (all of which we experience in plentiful supply during menopause without any additional help). There’s also some evidence to suggest that sleep deprivation is linked to a higher risk for certain diseases and medical conditions.
How is sleep affected during menopause?
As mentioned, sleep can be affected in different ways during menopause - all linked to hormonal changes.
It might be that you’re anxious and can’t fall asleep, it might be that you get woken in the night by hot flushes and night sweats (vasomotor symptoms) or needing to urinate, and some people wake very early and can’t get back to sleep. Some women experience sleep apnea after menopause, which can interrupt your sleep (4% increase after perimenopause), and other women report issues such as restless legs syndrome.
The Sleep Foundation estimates that up to 40% of women experience sleep issues during menopausal age groups, and it’s a bit of a vicious cycle as the less you sleep the more predisposed you are to feelings of anxiety and depression etc. In addition to sleeplessness, the physical symptoms of menopause, the emotional ups and downs, hot flushes and low energy levels can also lead to fatigue.
What can you do to help?
The things that can help with sleep disturbance depend on how you are experiencing it. However, the good news is that by treating the cause (we are, as you know, on team causation!).
For example, some women find that a relaxation routine before bed helps them to get to sleep, if you’re experiencing hot flushes then HRT might be the right option for you, or if you’re experiencing urinary symptoms, then local oestrogen therapy might help.
It’s probable that no one thing on its own will fix the sleeplessness issue, but here are a few ideas that can collectively make a difference:
Don’t give up on sleep
While it’s easier said than done, the best advice is - don’t give up on sleep - there are things that can help, and any rest is better than none at all - you can do this! Wellness rituals can help to help prepare the body for sleep and help you maximise the effectiveness of the sleep you do get with things like massage, aromatherapy and reflexology.
Tweak your diet
The US Department of Health reliably informs us that we should limit our intake of refined sugar, alcohol, caffeine, spicy food and salt as too much these things can worsen menopausal symptoms. It’s also recommended that if you smoke, try to quit - partly for hot flushes and partly because it’s generally bad for health - but you knew that anyway.
Don't close your mind to HRT
For some, holistic treatments and lifestyle changes are enough to help carry them through menopause, but some find that hormone therapies are a better solution. Try to keep an open mind and find what’s best for you - don’t suffer in silence because of preconceived ideas.
Lots of spa treatments can help you to feel more relaxed, but courses of acupuncture have shown to have some success in reducing the frequency of hot flushes, sweating, mood swings, sleep disturbance, skin and hair problems during menopause.
Lots of people find that reflexology helps to aid relaxation, improve mood, release tension, enhance sleep and ease water retention, amongst a variety of benefits that are much appreciated during menopause.
As is so often the case, aromatherapy can be extremely supportive for anyone going through menopause. We are particular fans of bergamot, benzoin and mandarin essential oils for aiding relaxation and sleep.
Phytohormones are plant-based compounds that mimic hormones, like oestrogen, in the body. You can access them through your diet - they are found in high concentration in soy bean products, tofu, flax seed, sesame seeds, wheat, berries, oats, barley, dried beans, lentils, rice, alfalfa, mung beans, apples, carrots and wheat germ. They can also be applied topically, which is why we include them in a number of our skincare products.
For example, soy is well known for its high concentration of isoflavones - a type of plant oestrogen - and is also great for cleansing and moisturising skin; evening primrose oil is great for hot flashes and night sweats as well as generally improving skin texture; sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E, which helps soothe the skin; and geranium oil is known to help balance hormones, while also boosting the skin's natural glow.
Curious about phytohormones in natural skincare? Explore our collection.