By Karen B. Simon, M.D.
Going through menopause is a major milestone in a woman’s life. It marks a big change in her life – the end of her reproductive years. Menopause is a normal part of aging, during which time the ovaries stop producing hormones and the menstrual cycle ends.
This can be a difficult and emotional process for many women not only because it signifies the end of fertility, but also because of the side effects women experience.
When ovaries stop producing adequate amounts of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, the reduced amount of these hormones triggers symptoms like hot flashes and sweating – two of the most common symptoms menopausal women experience.
Unfortunately, hot flashes, sweating and other symptoms of menopause don’t limit themselves to the daytime – they continue into the night, often making it difficult to sleep. Losing sleep during menopause is a common problem for women; according to the National Sleep Foundation, about 61 percent of menopausal women report having sleep issues.
Not only is it frustrating to lose sleep to uncomfortable menopause symptoms, but also prolonged sleep difficulties can lead to other problems, including daytime drowsiness and, more seriously, an increased risk of depression, hypertension, type 2 diabetes and weight gain.
However, just because you’re going through perimenopause or full-blown menopause doesn’t mean you’re doomed to lousy sleep for the next couple of years. Here’s what you can do to sleep more soundly.
One common treatment for menopause and its litany of symptoms is hormone replacement therapy, which involves supplementing with synthetic estrogen through a pill or patch, sometimes combined with progesterone. Since hot flashes and other symptoms are caused by the decreased amount of lack of estrogen and progesterone, supplementing them through hormone replacement therapy can quell the symptoms.
However, hormone replacement therapy isn’t an option for every woman. Some women don’t have severe enough menopause symptoms, some aren’t candidates for it and some simply decide that hormone replacement therapy isn’t the right treatment for them.
Some doctors recommend medications originally used as antidepressants and some other classes of medications to help relieve women of their hot flashes. Some of these options work for some women while other types of treatments work for other women – there may be some trial and error for each individual woman. Some of the over the counter options such as black cohosh combined with vitamins can be helpful as well.
Aside from hormone replacement therapy and medications, there are things women can do to ensure menopause symptoms stop keeping them up at night. The first is taking steps to stay cooler at night.
Try wearing loose-fitting clothing to bed, especially those made of natural fibers like cotton. Depending on the weather, adjust your thermostat or open some windows to keep your bedroom cool and well ventilated. In addition, you should also avoid eating any foods that may cause you to sweat, like spicy foods, especially close to bedtime.
The other remedy for interrupted sleep is to practice good sleep hygiene – that means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, putting electronics away well before bedtime, and emptying your bladder before hopping into bed. You should also try to avoid taking naps during the day and consuming caffeine later in the day. Similarly, drinking alcohol at night is also known to contribute to sleep disturbances.
Making time to exercise during the day can also help you sleep better at night, just be sure not to do it too close to bedtime.
About the Author
Dr. Simon specializes in Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN). She attempts to help patients become educated about their health and treatment options before they make decisions together.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Simon, please call 610-872-7660.