With a significant percentage of women suffering from insomnia symptoms when going through menopause, plus the additional anxiety and sleeplessness created by the Coronavirus crisis, if you’ve found yourself spending more time awake at night recently, then you are not alone.
Sleep issues are one of the most common symptoms of menopause and are caused by hormonal changes and a disruption in our circadian rhythm caused by aging. Alongside this it’s important to recognise that the menopause can also be a stressful period in general with many women juggling numerous responsibilities including caring for elderly parents, children, relationship challenges and careers. The average age of menopause is 51 years, however declining levels of the hormones oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone can begin up to ten years beforehand – this the period of time known as the perimenopause. The most common sleep symptoms women complain of are broken sleep, early morning waking e.g. 3.00-5.00am, restless leg syndrome, difficulty falling asleep and occasionally obstructive sleep apnoea due to weight gain.
Oestrogen plays the most significant role, it promotes healthy good quality sleep with fewer interruptions as it promotes the production of our happy hormone serotonin. Progesterone has a calming and balancing effect and helps to regulate mood and anxiety. Progesterone helps to increase production of GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep. During menopause these hormones fluctuate and decline so cause disruption in our sleep pattern so women find it harder to fall asleep and cause more interrupted broken sleep as well as flattening mood and increasing anxiety.
Oestrogen helps to control body temperature, and so the depleting levels cause hot flushes and night sweats that occur during the perimenopause which also impact and disturb sleep.
Our circadian rhythm is affected by the reduction in melatonin due to aging affecting our sleep cycle during the perimenopause.
A holistic approach to managing sleep is our recommended approach and can include the following:
Sleep routine: Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every morning. This will help your body get into a sleep routine. It will mean that your body is ready to sleep when you bed down, and equally ready for the day ahead in the morning.
Sleep hygiene: Avoid using screens at least 30 mins before going to bed. The blue light emitted by screens on phones, computers, tablets, and televisions restrain the production of melatonin, the hormone that controls your sleep/wake cycle or circadian rhythm. Reducing melatonin makes it harder to fall and stay asleep.
While it might be tempting to stay glued to the news, do not read or watch the news just before going to bed.
Diet: Fatty or sugary foods will make it extremely difficult for you to fall asleep. What’s more, these foods, along with caffeine and alcohol, will leave you more prone to night sweats. It is worth cutting out these foods if it means reduced night sweats and better sleep.
Herbal Teas: Herbal teas such as camomile, jasmine or lavender which help relax the body and mind to induce sleep.
Supplements: Magnesium is often called ‘nature’s calmer’ and can be applied as a spray, taken as a supplement or even used in bath salts which can be very soothing and helpful to aid sleep.It’s also possible to take black cohosh, red clover to ease hot flushes and melatonin supplements.
Exercise: Make the most of your daily exercise allowance and make sure you get out everyday. The fresh air and exercise helps maintain your circadian rhythm. sleep hygiene- put screens away when you go to bed.
Meditation: Try some slow breathing exercises which will help to calm the mind. If you don’t know how best to do this there are plenty of online guides and apps that can help you master it.
“Sleep is a perimenopause issue but I expect most people will be having more difficulty sleeping in these current times. Covid-19 I’m sure is giving you like me sleepless nights and increased anxiety, which is to be expected and understandable,” says Dr Shahzadi Harper. “I advise women to do a number of things to ease sleep problems, including exercise, yoga, practicing meditation and mindfulness. These are the things that I’m putting into practise myself during this period of confinement.”
If you are at all unsure about managing your menopause symptoms it is important you speak to your GP or call Dr Harper on 0207 637 8820 or email to book a consultation. In the current crisis Dr Harper is offering video consultations at a reduced fee of £195 and is able to send you an electronic prescription or via post.
Your local GP surgery might be oversubscribed so make sure you make the most of your 10 minute appointment by downloading and filling out our Menopause symptom checker, it’s a great way to get the conversation started. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram.
Menopause symptoms don’t go into lockdown just because we are!