Sleep may seem more elusive during midlife and menopause than any other time of life - even after having a new baby. Ninety-six percent of women in midlife say that poor sleep is one of their top three symptoms of menopause, according to a recent Gennev survey. To make matters worse, it seems like every day there’s another health problem attributed to a lack of sleep—weight gain, memory problems, decreased immunity, and increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even cancer. No wonder you can’t sleep!
“When sleep becomes a constant concern that a person is preoccupied by, that in itself can make it difficult to become a good sleeper,” says Sound Sleep Guru Meredith Broderick, M.D., who is board certified in sleep medicine and neurology.
So, the first step to better sleep is to stop worrying so much about your sleep. We know, easier said than done. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you to stop obsessing about your sleep and start enjoying a good night’s rest. You may be surprised to find out that some of the most effective strategies are pretty simple. And even if you’re sleep isn’t perfect, there are things you can do to mitigate the negative effects of poor sleep on your health.
Sleep is your body’s rest and repair time. You may think you’re busy during the day, but a lot is going on inside your body at night. Cells are regenerating. Hormones are regulating. Memories are being stored. Your immune system is reinforcing itself. Muscles are getting stronger. Nerve cell connections are being made. All in an effort so you can perform at your best the next day.
To make all of this happen, your body cycles through two types of sleep throughout the night. If you use a sleep tracker like a Fitbit or Apple watch, you may be familiar with some of this. The first type is non-rapid eye movement sleep (non-REM), which includes light and deep sleep. The latter is a crucial time for growth and repair, and if you awaken during this stage, you’ll often feel groggy and disoriented for a while. The second type is rapid eye movement sleep (REM sleep), which involves more brain activity than non-REM. This type of sleep is essential for the processing and storing of information, including memories, in your brain. Overnight you cycle through the various stages, with each cycle lasting about 90 minutes and the REM stage getting longer the more you sleep.
There are lots of reasons women sleep poorly during midlife. Hot flashes. Worries. Night sweats. Restless leg syndrome. Pain. A never-ending to-do list. Urinary issues. Sleep apnea. Even if you don’t have trouble falling asleep, you may find yourself waking up more often throughout the night and having a harder time falling back to sleep. Unfortunately, sleep problems don’t usually disappear along with other menopause symptoms.
But a good night’s sleep doesn’t have to be a dream. Often, when you address underlying issues such as urinary problems or joint pain, you’ll sleep better. Treating menopause symptoms like night sweats and anxiety can also help. That’s why your first step should be to see a doctor with experience treating women in menopause. They will understand what you’re going through and have the most options for helping you. A serious sleep robber that needs immediate attention is sleep apnea. If your partner notices that you’re snoring or appear to stop breathing while you sleep, talk to your doctor about getting checked for sleep apnea. As estrogen levels decline, you’re more likely to snore and even experience sleep apnea, a serious condition that disrupts your breathing. Like other underlying conditions, treating sleep apnea will help you sleep better and wake up feeling rested.
As you’re trying to improve your sleep, you may get fixated on the number of hours you’re snoozing. If you wear a sleep tracker, you might obsess about how much deep versus REM sleep you’re getting. While both quantity and quality are important, Dr. Broderick says the most valuable endpoint is feeling rested throughout the day. “If you feel good, the numbers aren’t as important,” she says. “Feeling good and functioning well during the day are what I care about the most.”
And getting a good night’s sleep, so you wake up feeling rested, starts long before you turn in for the night. “What you do with the time you are awake and the quality of your waking hours has a dramatic impact on your sleep quality,” Dr. Broderick explains. “Being active, engaged, having a purpose, and connection are reasons why you get out of bed in the morning. They also keep you busy and help your body generate the need for deep, uninterrupted sleep.”
While you address any underlying causes that may be keeping you up at night, here are additional steps you can take to set your body up for a good night’s sleep. Some may even help with conditions like anxiety, joint pain, and hot flashes that can rob you of sleep.
If you continue to have sleep issues, consider seeing a board-certified sleep specialist or a behavioral sleep specialist. They can provide cognitive behavioral therapy, which has been shown to be effective for chronic sleep problems.
When you notice a change in sleep pattern that may be associated with the menopause transition, 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 trouble sleeping.
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.