The importance of a good night's sleep is something that has been emphasized since childhood for most women, and with good reason. Studies show that lack of sleep leads to decreased function in the daytime, including lack of concentration, irritability, and a weaker immune system.
For women undergoing menopause, this can be even more devastating, as they are dealing with shifting hormones and all the stresses of adult life. Fortunately, sleep disorders can be managed and even treated. Below are the most frequently asked questions about this troubling yet common menopause symptom.
Q: What Are Sleep Disorders?
A: Women experiencing sleep disorders persistently have disruptions in their sleep cycles, perhaps waking up frequently during the night or waking up too early in the morning.
The recommended amount of sleep for a healthy adult is seven to eight uninterrupted hours per night, although this will vary between individuals. For someone experiencing a sleep disorder, this minimum amount of necessary sleep is not met, leading to a host of other stresses.
Q: What Are the Common Symptoms of Sleep Disorders?
A: As there are up to 80 estimated sleep disorders, a wide array of symptoms exist that a woman may experience.
However, symptoms of sleep disorders fall into three main categories, where overlap is common:
- Inability to fall asleep
- Inability to maintain sleep
- Excessive daytime sleepiness
Additionally, the following symptoms are often experienced by women going through menopause, and are also indicative of sleep disorders:
- Creeping, crawling, or tingling sensations in the legs or arms
- Gasping or stopping breathing for periods of time during the night
If a woman is unsure whether she is experiencing disruptions in sleep patterns, it may be helpful for her to keep a sleep diary, indicating which hours she is able to sleep, how many times a night she wakes up, and any daytime exhaustion she experiences. This may make it easier to notice patterns of sleep loss.
Q: Are Sleep Disorders Normal during Menopause?
A: Sleep disorders are one of the most common menopause symptoms, with up to 65% of all women experiencing sleep disturbances of some kind. However, just because menopausal women are more susceptible to developing a sleep disorder does not mean the problem has to be simply borne.
Q: What Are the Most Common Sleep Disorders Experienced by Menopausal Women?
A: While women may possibly experience any number of sleep disorders, the top sleep disturbances they are likely to encounter during menopause include:
Inability to fall asleep or waking up on a frequent basis throughout the night.
The temporary cessation of breathing throughout the night, lasting 10 seconds or longer.
Oftentimes associated with sleep apnea, this is loud, hoarse breathing that occurs during sleep.
Excessive daytime sleepiness that results in "sleep attacks," or an irresistible urge to sleep at inappropriate times.
Restless leg syndrome
This consists of unpleasant sensations occurring in the legs at rest, producing an urge to move them, often characterized as feeling achy, fidgety, or itchy.
While these are the most commonly experienced sleep disorders, there are dozens of others.
Q: Are Certain Women More Likely than Others to Experience Sleep Disorders?
Common Risk Factors
- High blood pressure
- Use of caffeine or nicotine
- Use of drugs or alcohol
- Inactivity or lack of exercise
- Working rotating or night shifts
A: Though sleep disorders are an extremely common occurrence during the menopausal years, some women are more likely to be affected.
Factors including age, race, and lifestyle can all influence a woman's ability to get a sound night of sleep. For example, Caucasian women are about 10% more likely to experience sleep problems during menopause than Asian women.
Q: What Causes Sleep Disorders?
A: The primary reason why a woman may develop sleep disorders during menopause relates to the hormonal fluctuations that are taking place within her body.
Psychological reasons can come into play as well. Stress, anxiety, and depression can all disrupt sleep and lead to various sleep disorders. Anxiety is closely linked to an inability to fall asleep, whereas depression is linked to early morning wakefulness.
Lower levels of estrogen are associated with the other menopause symptoms that may also lead to sleep disorders. Decreased estrogen is linked to hot flashes and night sweats, along with an increased incidence of snoring or disturbances in breathing. Progesterone works to induce sleep, so with decreased levels in the body, a woman is more prone to insomnia.
Read below to find out how to reduce the incidence of sleep disorders.
Q: What Can Be Done to Reduce the Incidence of Sleep Disorders?
A: Through the implementation of some simple lifestyle changes, it is possible for a woman to increase the frequency and quality of sleep. Here are some tips:
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid caffeine and other stimulants
- Avoid exercise close to bedtime
- Use the bed only for sleep
- Practice stress relief techniques
- Establish regularity in sleep routine
If these lifestyle changes do not help, it may be necessary to turn to natural supplements or other alternative therapies that can address the root of the problem. If no other options work, medication can be used to help restore a regular sleeping pattern. Keep reading to learn more about treatments for sleep disorders.
Q: Are Sleep Disorders Curable?
A: To treat long-lasting sleep disorders, it is necessary to first figure out what the underlying cause of the disorder is. In menopausal women, the cause is often hormonal, in which case alternative therapies that promote hormone production are often effective.
In more serious cases, it may be necessary to see a doctor who can prescribe medication. Sleeping pills should only be used as a short term solution, as they can have other side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and do not promote a healthy sleep cycle.
Q: What Are the Best Ways to Cope with Sleep Disorders?
Three approaches can be considered for treating sleep disorders: (1) lifestyle changes, (2) alternative remedies, and (3) medications. Most experts recommend that women begin with the least aggressive approach and move to the next level of treatment only if symptoms persist. Click on treatments for sleep disorders to discover all the possible options.
- Kravitz, H.M. & Joffe, H. (2011). Sleep During the Perimenopause: A SWAN Story. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America, 38(3), 567-586. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2011.06.002
- Love, S. (2003). Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2011). Your Guide to Healthy Sleep. Retrieved April 20, 2016, from http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/files/docs/public/sleep/healthy_sleep.pdf