Hot flashes, mood swings, shifts in appetite, vaginal dryness: these are all things we commonly associate with the menopause.
But something that isn’t so talked about is just how much of an impact the menopause has on sleep.
in fact, new research found that a third of menopausal women say sleep loss is their most serious symptom, with half losing five hours of sleep per night.
The research by Dunelm, which surveyed 1,000 menopausal women aged over 45, found that poor sleep quality is having a knock on effect on their general wellbeing.
Almost half admitted that a lack of sleep negatively impacts their mood and leads to an inability to concentrate and recall details.
How does menopause effect sleep?
According to sleep expert Dave Gibson, hormonal changes are responsible for the poor sleep many women experience during menopause.
‘Oestrogen loss causes the body to be more sensitive to temperature changes,’ he tells Metro.co.uk. ‘As a result the brain then fires hot flashes to try to cool the body down.’
He adds that a loss of oestrogen can impact the sleep wake cycle as it is involved in the metabolism of the sleep hormone, melatonin, and changes in mood and anxiety levels.
As Dave explains, lower progesterone levels also have an impact: ‘As a hormone, progesterone helps induce sleep and its loss makes it harder to both get to sleep and stay asleep.’
Dave adds that diet, hot flashes and stress levels all play a role.
How to get better sleep during menopause
Change up your diet
Dave advises upping your intake of soy based products, magnesium and considering making the switch to a vegetarian diet.
He tells us: ‘Soy products such as tofu, soybeans, and soymilk contain phytoestrogen, a plant hormone similar to oestrogen and can lessen hot flashes.
‘Eating magnesium rich foods such as almonds, brazil nuts, brown rice and dark green vegetables will help too.’
‘A more vegetarian based diet, with low fat and increased soya-based foods will help you both get to sleep and reduce hot flash symptoms, although spicy and acidic foods may trigger them.’
Dave also advises adding in a probiotic or natural unsweetened yoghurt to support your gut flora which he says is ‘especially important in sleep and can be affected by hormone fluctuations.’
As well as adding things to your diet, it’s also important to avoid certain foods such as sugar, salt, coffee and alcohol, which can trigger hot flashes and impact sleep even for those who aren’t going through menopause.
Stay cool at night
Hot flashes during the night are bound to wake you up and leave you feeling anxious and unable to sleep.
‘Top tips for reducing hot flashes include wearing light, loose, breathable cotton nightwear, avoiding heavy blankets, getting a lighter duvet, using cotton sheets, and having a fan or air conditioning to cool the air and increase circulation,’ says Dave.
He also advises putting a wet towel between you and the fan to increase the cooling effect and keeping a glass of cold water by the bed, just in case.
He adds that it’s important to develop a system of falling back to sleep after waking up from a night sweat.
‘The key here is to avoid doing something which could wake you up further,’ he says. ‘So keep the lights off, and stay in bed if you can, avoid looking at tech or switching the TV on and make sure you have a glass of cold water and a change of clothing near to hand too.’
However, he adds that lying there worrying when you can’t get back to sleep is likely to be counterintuitive.
‘If you are finding it hard to sleep, the worry will often make it harder to nod off,’ he says.
‘If you find yourself awake for more than 20 minutes, get out of bed and do something relaxing such as reading a book, then come back to the bedroom when you feel sleepy again.
‘This way, your brain associates your bedroom with sleep (and sex) only.
‘This “paradoxical intention” has been found to get us to sleep quicker than to close our eyes and force ourselves to feel tired.’
Relaxation for sleep and stress
Finally, Dave recommends regularly practising relaxation techniques such as meditation, breathing exercises and yoga.
‘They are especially beneficial during menopause as they can also help with the mood alterations associated with menopause and reduce stress,’ he says.
‘One good relaxation technique to try is Progressive Muscle Relaxation: this involves combining tensing and relaxing your muscles in sequence from the bottom to top of the body with deep breathing and has been shown in research to reduce hot flash frequency by 50%.’
He adds that exercising outdoors in the morning can help to regulate your sleep in a number of ways.
‘It’s a great way of getting your morning dose of endorphins, with the sunlight strengthening your Circadian Rhythm and helping with Vitamin D production,’ he says.
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