Does menopause cause sleep disorders?



When we were approached by the Sunday Times to write about sleep disruption through menopause. We were more than happy to contribute to their article.

Read the full Q&A as featured in The Sunday Times

16th June 2019


Q: During and after menopause, the number of women who report sleep problems increases sharply. Why is this?

A: Hormonal changes during peri-menopause (the phase leading up to your last period), impacts women’s ability to sleep, and is one of the first indicators that women are entering their peri-menopausal years. This is when women’s ovaries decrease the production of oestrogen and progesterone, a ‘feel good’ sleep-promoting hormone. 

Falling oestrogen levels also affects the body’s ability to produce and use serotonin and melatonin, neurochemicals that help assist and regulate women’s sleep/wake cycle.

Low oestrogen levels through menopause and beyond contribute to sleepless nights and insomnia. Menopause is individual to every woman, for some women once they have gone through menopause and their hormonal fluctuations balance out, their ability to sleep may begin to improve. For others, sleep disorders may arise such as sleep apnoea. Women’s hormones have a lot to answer for when it comes to sleep!

Q: Based on your work, what are the most common way in which menopause impacts sleep?

A: As women’s hormones begin to duck and dive, a variety of menopause symptoms may impact sleep. The most common being heat surges from hot flushes and night sweats. As women’s ovaries stop producing eggs, the hypothalamus, the section in the brain that acts as the body’s thermostat, goes into overdrive, producing hormones to encourage ovulation.

These hormonal surges cause blood vessels to dilate, increasing blood flow to the skin - making women hot! At night this disrupts sleep and comfort. Soggy, claggy, damp sheets then chill as they cool down, making it difficult to get comfortable again and drift back to sleep.

Life stresses may also have a huge impact on sleep through menopause.

61% of women suffer anxiety during peri-menopause. Hormonal anxiety and depression is one of the most underestimated symptoms of menopause. Whether brought on through worry about kids leaving home, going through exams, or having their own hormonal challenges. The sandwich generation are dealing with elderly parents, insecurities at work or relationship issues, all may impact on the quality of sleep. 

Other menopause symptoms induced by hormonal fluctuations may cause discomfort, such as joint aches and pains, restless leg syndrome, headaches, heavy, irregular periods or stomach cramps.

Relationship problems centred around bedtime activities, may impact on getting to sleep. When all a woman essentially wants to do is sleep, loss of libido creeps into bed. They may worry about upsetting partners, as sex is at the bottom of the to-do list, or they’re embarrassed to talk about more intimate menopause symptoms such as vaginal dryness. This can cause sex to be dreadfully painful - love literally hurts!

Q: Are there any remedies, treatments or strategies that can be employed to tackle the effects on sleep?

Yoga breathing exercises, mindfulness, meditation, CBT are helpful therapies and strategies that have been proven to help calm, relax and focus your thoughts when your either suffering menopause anxiety, night sweats and helping you get to, or back to sleep. Cutting out caffeine, and that includes your average builder’s tea, and substitute for decaffeinated coffee and herbal teas, if you love caffeine too much, then avoid drinking caffeine after 4pm, as it lingers in the system.

Our PositivePause mantra is that menopause is a time to pause and reassess your health and lifestyle. This means looking at what and when you eat, cut out the refined carbs and sugars, as they are sleeps enemy. If hot flushes are causing problems then alcohol might help you fall asleep, but it raises your temperature and the high sugar content will wake you later, so cut back, or cut it out. 

Regular aerobic exercise, especially outside in the fresh air, where the sunlight helps produce sleep-inducing melatonin is also beneficial, although better earlier than later in the day.

Avoid taking technology into your bedroom as the blue light is not conducive for sleep. Make your bedroom a sleep haven, block out the light, but ensure you open a window. Having a cooler room encourages your body to rest and sleep and is helpful if suffering nights sweats. 

PositivePause love FemTech; Clarity is a great menopause mindfulness app to help beat the heat of night sweats and induce sleep.

There’s a great range of new technology textiles to wick away moisture. Menopause specific clothing brands include Fifty One Apparel, Become, Cucumber Clothing. Providing nightwear and separates to help regulate your body temperature. Even moisture wicking bedding such as DermaTherapy are designed to combat those night sweats. 

Relaxation before bed time is a must; try a bath with a few handfuls of magnesium or Epsom salts. Magnesium is great for regulating your body clock. If there is ever a time to pamper yourself it’s through menopause. Aromatherapy may help, treat yourself with essential oils in your bath, or a diffuser with lavender, Valerian or Clary sage, we’re also partial to a sleep-inducing pillow spray.

If all the above lifestyle changes (which are not difficult or costly), have not helped, and sleep is still elusive, then it might be time for a trip to your GP to talk about HRT. The benefits for most women outweigh the risks. It’s proven to help with hot flushes and night sweats, so if that’s what’s causing your sleepless nights then it could be the solution to regulate those fluctuating hormones that are robbing you of your precious slumber.

Ann Stephens

Read the article in the Sunday Times

June 16th 2019