Sleepless Nights – Tackling Insomnia in Menopause

Sleepless Nights – Tackling Insomnia in Menopause

"How did you sleep darling?" is the habitual morning question from my husband. How "well" and particularly how "badly" we sleep is not only a subject of marital discussion but is also a national and international obsession.

Obviously, sleep requirements vary by individual but most healthy adults need between 7 and 9 hours per night.  Sleeping well is vital for looking and feeling good, regardless of our age. It doesn't matter if we lead a healthy lifestyle or are as fit as a fiddle, we are only as good as the amount of sleep we get and a bad night's sleep will almost certainly leave us feeling lethargic, unable to concentrate, bad-tempered and in some cases depressed.

There are a multitude of reasons why people don't sleep, worry and stress of course being the most common.   Personally, I have suffered a range of sleep issues in my lifetime each with their own set of challenges, including being married to a prolific snorer .

According to the Great British Bedtime Report, however, I am not alone and "partner disturbance" as it is aptly called is the UK's second most common cause of disrupted sleep with women more likely to be affected than men (31% compared to 19%).

Partner disturbances like child disturbances are similar in that over time your body and mind develop their own coping mechanisms. The same cannot be said, however, of the shift in sleeping patterns that accompanies the transition to menopause - which is when women start to commonly experience really significant changes in the quality of their sleep and I am no exception.

Going to sleep is not a problem for me, the issue is that I wake up during the night often at 3am and then have difficulty returning to sleep again, if at all.  This inability to stay asleep is known as "maintenance insomnia".

A Fitbit devotee for some time now, I became obsessed with checking my sleep stats and was horrified to see that on average I was clocking up just 5 hours sleep a night and that I was restless or fully awake anywhere between 16 and 20 times a night.

According to the Sleep Council  "A ‘very poor’ night’s sleep can be defined as less than five hours: and a third of those who suffer from insomnia routinely sleep for less than five hours".  To deepen my misery I completed the Council's Great British Sleep Survey and was not surprised to learn that my sleep score was 3.75/Low.

For women like me on the journey from peri-menopause through menopause, the hormonal fluctuations occurring in our bodies at this time throw our body's chemistry completely out of kilter.  This can wreak havoc with our emotional and physical state and disrupt sleep enough to induce insomnia and because the shift to menopause can last a number of years insomnia symptoms can go from transient and temporary to chronic and severe during this time.  It is also a vicious circle because the more sleep you lose the worse everything else is.  Fun it most certainly isn't and it can have a significant impact upon your family.  This was my husband's white flag email:

"Darling, been reading a lot of websites and articles. This one seemed to make the most sense to me.  Let's talk when you want to.  Supporting Your Partner During Menopause  https://www.verywell.com/supporting-your-partner-during-menopause-2322673"

I have written previously about my quest to attempt to address various lifestyle issues arising from my menopause and this email was probably an incentive to get on with it.  Along with increased irritability, insomnia was one of the primary reasons I sought expert advice earlier this year.  Yes as a parent I have known debilitating tiredness, but the exhaustion from insomnia in menopause is totally unforgiving.

During my consultation, the results of my hormone tests,  showed I was lacking in progesterone, the happy hormone, whose primary function is to relax us and keep us calm, all of those qualities we need to not only keep us balanced, but also to ensure restful sleep.

Declining estrogen at this time also has a role to play and whilst my tests showed my decline in estrogen wasn't as marked as my progesterone, estrogen does help to deepen our sleep and therefore could be the reason I couldn't stay asleep.

It is now 3 months since I was first prescribed a course of bio-identical hormone therapy and during this time I have returned for a follow-up consultation.  The initial prescription went some way to addressing my symptoms, with my husband in particular noting an improvement in my moodiness or as he fondly calls it a reduction in my flash to bang and I was also managing to stay asleep at night more than I had previously.

Everything that happens on the course to menopause is down to your hormones and you quite simply can 't control your hormones without medication, but equally hormone therapy is not for everyone, so hormones aside, what are the best ways of combating insomnia in menopause and getting a good night's sleep?

  • Invest in a decent bed.  Given that we spend a third of our lives in bed, a comfortable bed is vital regardless of whether you are menopausal or not.  Obviously the quality of the mattress has a big part to play in this and the Sleep Council recommends that we replace our mattress at least once every seven years.  The choice is extensive now and is no longer just about soft or hard either, new to the market foam mattresses adapt to all body shapes, sizes and sleeping styles.
  • Use natural bedding.  Avoid synthetic fabrics to ensure you keep cool whilst you sleep, which if you suffer from night time sweats during the menopause is a great help.  Good ventilation in the bedroom is also advised.
  • Sleep schedule. Make sure to only go to bed when you feel sleepy, and get up if you find yourself awake for longer than quarter of an hour. By reducing the time in bed you spend awake you can improve your ‘sleep efficiency’, and as a result your sleep quality.
  • Sleep hygiene.  Keep all electronic devices from the bedroom.  It is really tempting to just check your "instagram" or your "twitter" before nodding off but it all acts as unnecessary stimulation. The best advice for a restful night's sleep is universally to go to bed at a set time, avoid caffeine before bed and opt instead for a calming drink (my personal favourite is Pukka night-time tea) and do something to help you relax whether that be relaxation techniques or simply reading.
  • Keep moving.  Whatever your life-stage, exercise is important full stop to combat a range of physical and mental health issues but a sedentary lifestyle in menopausal women is strongly associated with insomnia.  Regular exercise will improve it.  Find something you enjoy, try new things and keep it varied.
  • Mindfulness.  A bad night’s sleep often makes you feel irritable the next day, but it also works the other way around - feeling low can increase your risk of future sleep problems. Being aware of what is going on inside us and around us can help to lift our spirits when we are feeling low.  Mindfulness can help as can meditation with developing awareness of your breathing.
  • Supplements.  Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can also contribute to a poor night's sleep.  It is known that magnesium deficiency can cause insomnia and a lack of potassium can lead to difficulty staying asleep throughout the night.  In addition Vitamin D deficiency has also been linked to excessive daytime sleepiness, so if menopausal insomnia is an issue it is worth investigating including these supplements in your diet.  The other fail safe one I would add to this is Evening Primrose Oil.

 

Sleep and physical health have a two-way relationship. Ill-health can make it hard to sleep but equally poor sleep can also increase our risk of future illness.   As well as employing all the recommended ways of ensuring I get a good night's sleep, my hormone dosage has been adjusted according to my last meeting.   A month in and in terms of my sleeplessness it has been limited to maybe a handful of nights which whilst they have made me feel totally miserable, when I think back to where I was at the beginning of this  year is a big step forward.

I am as my consultant has told me still "work in progress", after all the peri-menopause can last for a number of years.  For now at least though the quality of my life is improving because fundamentally I am sleeping better and as my family can vouch the well-being of the household is dependent upon my sleep!

Do you have any tips for dealing with insomnia?  If so I would love you to share them.  

 

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36 Comments

  1. May 16, 2017 / 4:18 pm

    No tips for insomnia per se but I too have suffered with pretty extreme symptoms from hormonal imbalances as a result of going through too much (divorce) stress in the months after having a baby. All the extra cortisone my body was producing in response too stress was suppressing my hormones and stopping them from balancing out after giving birth. It left me soooooo ‘hormonal’ and was starting to ruin my new marriage. I no have it under control with acupuncture (every 3 months) and EPO with Starflower oil (apparently the Starflower works of Progesterone, EPO on Oestrogen. I cannot recommend both of these enough – I have tried doing without over the last 3 years and after about a month all my symptoms return. Great read BTW
    Alex recently posted…Summer Wardrobe 2017My Profile

    • May 17, 2017 / 9:51 am

      Oh yes the divorce scenario I have been there in my long and distant past and you are right the stress it inflicts upon our poor bodies is terrible. Our hormones are responsible for so much and I have heard it said that the hormonal fluctuations that occur during menopause are similar to those after having a baby. I am glad you have found treatment that works for you and thanks for your recommendation too – Starflower has been advised before, so it is time for me to check it out. Thanks for your comment.

  2. May 5, 2017 / 4:28 pm

    #TweensTeensBeyond I have a completely different sleep pattern from my husband but as he is the one with the job i just go with it as I can always catch up during the day. he goes to bed around 11pm and then to sleep within 15 minutes, waking at 7am. so i end up staying awake often till midnight and wake around 4am my preference is to go to bed at 9pm, sleep by 10pm and up at 5am.
    chickenruby recently posted…Disabled toilets in the UK – JD Wetherspoon, I’m talking to you.My Profile

    • May 8, 2017 / 5:18 pm

      It is tough if your sleep patterns are different. My husband is far more of a morning person than I am and can survive quite easily on much less sleep than me too. Thanks for joining us again. #TweensTeensBeyond

  3. Nige
    May 4, 2017 / 8:23 pm

    My sleep is terrible I probably wake at least twice a night maybe that’s a legacy of five children, I’m sure menopause is very tough and never associated sleep with it hope it improves for you thanks for hosting #tweensteensandbeyond

    • May 5, 2017 / 12:10 pm

      Yes I think you are right Nigel children have a lot to answer for and certainly when you have young ones your body clock is different and you are subconsciously listening out for them as well, I always was. Thanks for commenting and joining us again. #TweensTeensBeyond

  4. May 4, 2017 / 1:41 pm

    In my late-fifties, I’m probably out of the other end of the tunnel, but I have no trouble getting to sleep these days. One thing I’ve come to accept late in life though is that I was always a person who stayed up late, rather than got up early – in part I blame being born at minutes to midnight! I used to go to bed at 11 or 12 like a more normal person but would then take ages to fall asleep. So now I go to bed at 1 or even 2 am, sleep like a log and wake up (with the help of an alarm) at half past 7. #tweensteensbeyond

    • May 5, 2017 / 12:08 pm

      I read that sleeping patterns shouldn’t change with age but I have to say I am not convinced by that. It sound like you have a routine that works for you and that is half the battle is finding what’s best for you. Thanks for your comment Mary. #TweensTeensBeyond

  5. May 3, 2017 / 9:10 pm

    I am obsessed by sleep and have always had a not-so-secret love affair with my bed! So I find the thought of impending sleep doom to be really concerning! I read this post with great interest because I guess this will be the next big thing in life so it’s good to know what’s ahead! I agree with a lot of the commenters above though. Getting enough exercise every day and keeping electronic devices out of the bedroom are good habits to get into! Thank you for this really meaty post. It was incredibly informative! And you have a lovely supportive husband 🙂
    #TweensTeensBeyond
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    • May 3, 2017 / 9:58 pm

      Oh Alisa bless you! My husband will be chuffed. He does pull it out of the bag every now and then that is for sure. I am breaking my own rule and using an electronic device after 9pm! I am actually taking advantage of the chance for an early night and creeping off with a book right now. Thanks for joining us again. #TweensTeensBeyond

  6. May 3, 2017 / 3:04 pm

    You know I’m with you on this one my dear. Beauty sleep is what we need and crave. I find I don’t sleep leading up to each period which often stores up problems in the tiredness department. At times, I stop trying as that can become worse than the problem itself. However, mediation has helped the ability to switch off to prevent sleeplessness becoming thinking time. I also love the sleep spray which I find really helps. Iron deficiency and anaemia has also caught me out a few times on the peri-menopausal journey. Great post, very informative and an area in which you are very much not alone x #ttb

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:12 pm

      I am a big fan of Bach’s Night time Rescue Remedy and during a bad spell of sleeplessness will literally overdose on it! I have been anaemic all my life and take regular Ferrous Fumarate tablets to combat that but if I forget oh my goodness my tiredness is off the richter scale – am going to have to review your meditation advice. #TweensTeensBeyond

  7. May 3, 2017 / 1:54 pm

    I love your pointers. I’ve found that doing away with electronic devices and having an exercise routine are big helps when it comes to getting sleep.
    Obsessivemom recently posted…That warm cup of teaMy Profile

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:09 pm

      Yes I have become really bad at checking my social media in bed which is something I never did before blogging so I need to curb that habit pretty soon. #TweensTeensBeyond

  8. May 3, 2017 / 1:44 pm

    I just finished up a sponsored campaign with Beautyrest sleeptracker. I found that my biggest problem was inconsistency in what time I was going to bed at night. It makes such a big difference in how I feel the next day #teenstweensbeyond
    jeremy@thirstydaddy recently posted…#ISleepTo Be BetterMy Profile

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:08 pm

      Oh I will have to check out your post! I have read that a consistent bedtime is key and I used to be very good at it but my husband is the world’s worst at going to bed so I get out of kilter as a result. Great advice Jeremy. Thanks. #TweensTeensBeyond

  9. May 3, 2017 / 11:47 am

    Great post! I’m not there myself yet but I know people that are so I shall share this with them. Very useful tips x #TweensTeensBeyond

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:06 pm

      Oh thanks Sharon, hope your friends find it useful. #TweensTeensBeyond

  10. May 3, 2017 / 11:46 am

    This is really useful. I don’t have issues with sleep as yet, but it’s not something I’m looking forward too!
    Tubbs recently posted…BlanketsMy Profile

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:05 pm

      Fingers crossed it won’t affect you. I have had problems on and off for years so maybe the menopause has just exacerbated it. In the meantime I am doing whatever I am told. #TweensTeensBeyond

  11. May 3, 2017 / 11:14 am

    What an amazingly useful post Jo! This is not something that I am experiencing yet and I’m certainly not looking forward to it. Pre-children I slept like a log. then over the course of having three kids who were awake almost hourly, I don’t think I slept at all for about 10 years! As the kid’s got older they soon realised how highly I value my sleep and know not to disturb me unless it is literally a life or death situation. I soooo don’t want to return to sleepless nights and will be saving this post for when I need it. xx

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:04 pm

      Lucky you, treasure those nights of sleep. Hopefully you will be fine, the menopause affects people in different ways. Like you my teens know never to disturb me in fact they pray for me to sleep. x

  12. May 2, 2017 / 9:03 pm

    Thanks for this post. I’m not having too much trouble nodding off and staying asleep at the moment but I’ll come straight back to this if these symptoms kick in – sleep is so vital. Glad you are getting mroe sleep now #TweensTeensBeyond
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    • May 3, 2017 / 4:03 pm

      Thanks Lynne, I am definitely seeing an improvement so maybe the insomnia is behind me! Touch wood. #TweensTeensBeyond

  13. May 2, 2017 / 8:59 pm

    I haven’t slept right through for years – so nothing to do with the menopause – however, the thought of the menopause now making my sleep even worse is driving me nuts! My disturbed nights so far are caused by my husband snoring, hearing every little creak of the house and getting my knickers in a twist – literally!! Happy days! #TweensTeensBeyond
    Midlife Dramas in Pyjamas recently posted…Grab your coat – you’ve pulled!My Profile

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:02 pm

      The snoring husband syndrome is so annoying. We have tried all sorts of remedies for that and the only one that has worked so far is him losing weight! I am very sensitive to noise too and as we live on quite a busy road I will often stick my earplugs in to block out external noise. Oh it is all such a barrel of laughs! #TweensTeensBeyond

  14. May 2, 2017 / 7:05 pm

    Yeap this is me. Such a great post as I think the more we write about our symptoms, the more we can understand and help each other. I take a vit D supplement too which has definitely helped over the winter period. Mother Nature is cruel in that when we need to sleep more due to kids, elderly parents and work, we are hit by the menopause! Thank you for writing this post. #teentweensbeyond

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:00 pm

      Oh I am glad you found it helpful and I totally agree that sharing helps. Everyone has a trick up their sleeve that could be the one that makes the difference to someone else. I had never taken Vitamin D before but it is amazing how many people say they take it every winter without fail. #TweensTeensBeyond

  15. May 2, 2017 / 6:53 pm

    I have found my sleep has been disturbed ever since having the kids and it’s never really recovered. My husband also tentatively asks me each morning how I slept. He admitted he dreads it when I say I’ve had a terrible night’s sleep as they whole family will suffer the next day! I must be a pain in the bum! 3.24am is my usual time for waking up and deciding the world is about to end with all the worries whirring around in my brain. Hot baths and reading help me, and I definitely sleep better when I’m exercising regularly. We’re all in it together at least though it’s no fun. #TweensTeensBeyond s

    • May 3, 2017 / 4:14 pm

      How funny that your husband has the same ritual! I agree reading before bed for is essential and there is a huge difference if I don’t get to do any exercise – even a walk around the block helps. What is it about 3/3.30am wake-ups – it is the time to be up and about it seems. #TweensTeensBeyond

  16. May 2, 2017 / 1:51 pm

    I struggle to sleep regularly anyway. I get to sleep fine but the slightest sounds wake me. I never knew that Menopause can cause insomnia. Sounds bloody awful to me. #TweensTeensBeyond
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    • May 3, 2017 / 3:57 pm

      I think insomnia in whatever guise is horrific, but I do have a few friends who have really suffered with it at this stage of their life. The battle is finding the remedy that works for you as it is different for everyone. #TweensTeensBeyond

    • May 3, 2017 / 3:56 pm

      Lack of sleep is the worst. I am beginning to notice a real improvement so I hope it lasts. #TweensTeensBeyond

  17. May 2, 2017 / 10:22 am

    WOW! I can really relate to this and am actually really struggling now with sleep, and have done for around 3 months now. I too can fall asleep quite easily, I have no issues there. But, I wake every night without fail around 3.3am and that’s it. I either lay there and toss and turn getting more wound up by the minute, or I get up and do something like have a hot drink or read. I have really been trying every solution I can and love a hot bath with a lavender bath bomb, that’s nice. Changing my pillows helped too. And no TV/screens for at least 1 hour before I fall asleep too. I’m constantly wishing every day for a peaceful night and when I do get one it’s the best day ever! ha – thank you for this! #TweensTeensBeyond

    • May 3, 2017 / 3:56 pm

      I find it is a bit of a vicious circle as well once you start getting into the habit of waking at a certain time there seems to be no going back and it is odd that 3am seems such a popular time too. I try not to stress about it too much and generally resist getting up unless I have been awake for an hour or so. Lavender is great for relaxing you and my son bought me a lavender pillow spray and a rub for my wrists for Christmas – that is what I mean about the whole family feeling my pain. #TweensTeensBeyond

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