All women will go through the menopause. Despite this, women often find information around the menopause and support with symptoms is lacking.
What is the menopause?
The NHS defines the menopause as “when a woman stops having periods and is no longer able to get pregnant naturally”1. The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age, as a woman’s oestrogen levels decline. In the UK, the average age for a woman to reach the menopause is 51.
Menopause lasts for one day, exactly one year after a woman’s last period but her symptoms span from peri-menopause to post-menopause, often tens of years!
Symptoms of the menopause
There are a number of symptoms of the menopause, but some common ones are;
- hot flushes
- night sweats
- vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
- difficulty sleeping
- low mood or anxiety
- reduced sex drive (libido)
- problems with memory and concentration
Sleep issues and menopause
The Sleep Foundation reports that on average, around 12 percent of women experience sleep complaints. As women age into their late 40s to early 50s, that number increases dramatically to 40 percent. Sleep issues become more common and worsen during peri-menopause to post-menopause, when women report the most sleep problems.2
Hot flushes can wake you from your sleep, and over time may cause long-term sleep disruptions. Some research suggests that hot flushes occur when decreased oestrogen levels cause your body’s thermostat (hypothalamus) to become more sensitive to slight changes in body temperature.
Hot flushes are extremely energising due to the increase in heat and adrenaline, which can make it hard to fall back asleep. Even if a woman falls back asleep quickly, her sleep quality suffers due to the frequent awakenings and discomfort, causing fatigue the following day. 3
The menopausal decline of oestrogen contributes to disrupted sleep by causing symptoms including hot flushes and sweats to anxiety and depression.
Anxiety can lead to difficulty getting to sleep, and depression can lead to non-restorative sleep and early morning waking.
Joint aches and pains, and bladder problems such as passing urine at night, are also common consequences of oestrogen decline and can cause sleep disruption.
Menopausal progesterone decline may also be involved in sleep disturbance since progesterone has a sleep inducing effect by acting on brain pathways. Melatonin, another vital hormone for sleep, decreases with age. Secretion of melatonin is partly influenced by oestrogen and progesterone and levels decrease during the peri-menopause, often compounding the problem.4
If you experience hot flushes at night, you can try5:
- Wearing light clothing
- Keeping your bedroom cool
- Take a cool shower, use a fan or have a cold drink
- Try to reduce your stress levels
- Avoid potential triggers (spicy foods, caffeine, smoking and alcohol)
- Take part in regular exercise
Try to get yourself into a good sleep routine to generally aid your sleep. How can you build good sleep habits?
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Keep your room dark and at a comfortable temperature when sleeping
- Invest in a good mattress, pillows and duvet
- Try to limit your use of phones, TV and laptops in your bedroom (especially in the hours running up to going to sleep)
- Try to avoid alcohol, caffeine and large meals in the hours before bedtime
- Exercise during the day; this can help you wind down in the evenings to prepare for sleep
If you’d like to track your sleep to try and spot some habits you could change to improve your sleep, download our sleep diary here!