Sleep is a precious commodity. Between menopause and our 24/7 world, getting a good night’s sleep can be tough, and the health consequences of poor sleep keep piling up. Everything from your body weight and mood to your memory and disease risk is influenced by sleep. Even your strong bones may not be immune to the dangers of poor sleep, according to the latest research. That’s why it’s essential to find out if your sleep habits are jeopardizing your sleep in menopause—and your health—and take steps to fix them.
If night sweats, anxiety, or dozens of other unknown factors are keeping you up at night, you probably want to scream every time you hear the recommendation to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. So, we’re not going to focus on quantity here. Instead, let’s work on improving some sleep habits that may be affecting the quality of your sleep. As you improve those habits, you may naturally get more Zzzzs—bonus!
Here are 10 habits that can negatively impact your sleep and what to do about them.
You may feel better, but your body isn’t noticing a difference on a cellular level. Adverse effects of poor sleep like decreased insulin sensitivity, which contributes to diabetes, aren’t improved with a few extra hours of sleep here and there. The more erratic your sleep patterns are, the higher your risk of heart disease. And when you sleep in, it can disrupt your ability to fall asleep that night and reinforce an irregular sleep pattern.
The fix: Keep a consistent wake time. This is one of the most important steps to set yourself up for more and better sleep, according to Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Stanford University School of Medicine. Melatonin is your body’s sleep hormone. It shuts off when you wake up and turns on again at night to prepare you for sleep. A key factor that regulates melatonin’s production cycle is your wake-up time. Melatonin production ramps up 12 to 16 hours after you awaken.
Quantity isn’t the only factor when it comes to getting quality sleep, according to Michael Breus, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and sleep expert. Even if you’re getting the recommended number of hours, going to bed after midnight can rob you of precious deep sleep. Deep, restorative sleep happens during the first part of the night, while lighter REM sleep (both are important) happens more during the second part of the night. Turning in after midnight increases heart disease risk. In a five-year study, those burning the midnight oil had a 25 percent greater risk of heart disease than those who were lights out between 10 and 11 o’clock. The risk was 12 percent higher for those who hit the hay between 11 p.m. and midnight. And women seemed to be more susceptible to the dangers of staying up late, according to the research published in the European Heart Journal Digital Health.
The fix: Shift your bedtime before midnight to set yourself up for the best possible sleep. Having a consistent wake-up time (see #1) and getting an early dose of sunlight will help you to be able to fall asleep earlier.
Stop! New research from Northwestern University found that even a little light when you’re supposed to be snoozing raised heart rate and glucose levels, which can increase risk for heart disease and diabetes.
The fix: Resist the temptation to reach for your phone, even to check the time. The darker your room remains, the easier it will be to fall back to sleep and the better you’ll sleep. Invest in a low-light clock if you want to check the time. Red light doesn’t affect your body clock, waking you up, like blue or white light from your phone. If you struggle to fall back to sleep, check out the strategy in #4.
First, don’t reach for your phone (see #3). Second, don’t panic. The more you stress out about being awake and not getting enough sleep, the harder it will be to fall back to sleep. Instead relax. Even if you don’t fall back to sleep, it’s OK. Early research on non-sleep deep rest (NSDR) shows it can be rejuvenating. NSDR is a hyper-calm state induced through meditation or hypnosis.
The fix: When you panic or stress out because you’re wide awake at 3 a.m., you set off your body’s flight-or-fight reaction, which is not conducive to sleep. Instead, you want to remain or get back into your body’s relaxed, resting state. To help you chill out and improve your chances of falling back to sleep, try yoga nidra, a form of meditation to bring on deep rest. Even if you don’t fall back to sleep, you’ll still be getting some quality rest. You can practice yoga nidra to reduce stress and feel more refreshed any time of the day.
Your sleeping position has been blamed for back, neck, and shoulder pain and snoring, but research to back this up is inconclusive.
The fix: Based on preliminary evidence, sleeping on your side with your legs stacked appears to be the safest position unless you have shoulder pain. Try sleeping on the opposite side if you wake up with shoulder pain. The one side position you should avoid is throwing your top leg over your body which twists your back and may contribute to both back and neck pain. Back sleepers may be more prone to snoring and waking up with a stiff, achy back. Sleeping on your belly may also aggravate back and neck pain.
You may feel like it’s helping, but alcohol-induced sleep isn’t the best quality. While you may fall asleep faster, alcohol decreases deep sleep and causes you to wake up more throughout the night. It may also contribute to nightmares and snoring, which increases your risk for sleep apnea (see #10).
The fix: Try a glass of tart cherry juice on the rocks or sip a cup of chamomile tea instead. Both have been found in studies to improve sleep. If you must imbibe, cut yourself off four hours before bedtime.
While this may counteract your body’s natural decline in body temperature that occurs in the evening, some research shows that the dramatic post-soak dip in body temperature may enhance sleep. However, the studies didn’t specifically look at women in midlife, for whom hot water may trigger hot flashes and night sweats.
The fix: If a dip in the hot tub isn’t disrupting your sleep, enjoy! For the best impact on your sleep, time your soak for about 90 minutes before bedtime, so your body temperature has time to lower before you crawl under the covers. If hot water triggers hot flashes for you, try a warm foot bath instead. A 20-minute soak an hour before bedtime not only helped menopausal women sleep better, but it also reduced disruptive menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, according to research in the journal Research in Nursing & Health.
Frequent nighttime bathroom visits are a classic sign of an overactive bladder. While it’s great that you’re falling back to sleep, every trip to the bathroom disrupts restful sleep. The fewer bathroom breaks at night, the better
The fix: You can take steps to curb an overactive bladder and improve your sleep. Start by making sure that you’re well-hydrated during the day—yup, it sounds counterintuitive, but it prevents bladder irritation that can send you to the bathroom more frequently. And cut back on other bladder irritants such as caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, citrus, tomatoes and tomato-based foods, and spicy foods.
This is a wake-up call that you need more sleep. And 15, even 30, minutes of fragmented sleep isn’t going to help. These short bouts of snoozing aren’t restorative and can make you feel more stressed in the morning.
The fix: Get a better night’s sleep by going to bed earlier or improving the quality of your slumber. Or, set your alarm later to enhance the quality of those extra minutes, and then get out of bed when it goes off.
Factors like alcohol, weight gain, sleeping position (see #5), or uncontrollable allergies can contribute to snoring. Declines in estrogen during perimenopause and menopause make women more prone to snoring.
The fix: If addressing these factors doesn’t help, talk to your doctor. Snoring can be a sign of sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart problems, and diabetes.
Now that you know how your habits might be affecting your sleep—and your health—take action! Even small changes can improve your sleep. The result: you’ll have more energy, be more productive, be better able to concentrate, react more quickly, manage your emotions better, and improve your overall health. You may even notice a decline in some menopausal symptoms, such as anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and forgetfulness. A win-win-win!
If you are experiencing changes in your sleep pattern associated with menopause symptoms (especially if body temperature instability is part of the problem), consider an appointment with a Gennev doctor to address the role that hormonal shifts can play in your sleepless nights.
The information on the Gennev site is never meant to replace the care of a qualified medical professional. Hormonal shifts throughout menopause can prompt a lot of changes in your body, and simply assuming something is “just menopause” can leave you vulnerable to other possible causes. Always consult with your physician or schedule an appointment with one of Gennev's telemedicine doctors before beginning any new treatment or therapy.
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