When the ovaries stop working to mature eggs and release those eggs for fertilization, menopause begins. Estrogen and progesterone are no longer needed after menopause and thus production stops. Menopause is normal and occurs in all women at some point after the age of 45, in most cases. As a woman enters menopause, she may soon find sleep a difficult adversary.
Why does menopause affect sleep?
There is no clear answer to this question, but some experts believe the lack of estrogen and progesterone may have something to do with altered sleep patterns. When hormone levels drop, hot flashes and sweating may result. At night, these symptoms may be more severe, often referred to as night sweats. Night sweats can arouse a woman from a deep sleep and make it very difficult to fall back asleep.
The effect of sleep disorders during menopause
Research studies have revealed up to 61% of women in menopause have sleep problems. Many of these women fight off night sweats and hot flashes for five years or more after moving into menopause. Trouble sleeping can lead to sleepiness and fatigue during the day, which can then move to anxiety and agitation.
Fighting menopause-related sleep problems
The most common treatment for hot flashes and night sweats is hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Some women need only estrogen replacement, while others will opt for an estrogen/progesterone combination. There are risks associated with HRT, including stroke and blood clots (estrogen only). Combination therapy can also increase the risk of breast cancer and heart disease.
HRT is recommended for women with severe menopause symptoms only and thus alternative treatments for sleep problems during menopause may prove more effective with fewer potential side effects. Thin, light clothing should be worn to bed with a fan available at all times. Spicy foods should not be eaten before bed as they can cause an increase in sweating. Bedding should be made of natural, breathable fibers as should the mattress and mattress pad.
These physical changes should greatly improve sleep during menopause, but is not 100% effective for all women. In severe insomnia cases, sleep medications may be prescribed for short-term use. Sleep medications tend to have fewer potential side effects when taken for situational insomnia.
Menopause should not be a reason to miss sleep. Life changes and when menopause begins, so do hormone levels. Replacing those hormones is a proven option to relieve sleep problems associated with the natural aging process, but is not the answer for every woman.