It’s 4 a.m. Do you know where your sanity is?
Welcome to the frustrating world of menopause and insomnia, where you spend hours getting to sleep, only to wake up three hours later and stare at the ceiling. When did sleep become such a nightmare?
According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 60 percent of women suffer from insomnia during their perimenopausal years. Insomnia and lack of quality sleep is a big deal. Insomnia can lead to daytime exhaustion, fatigue, and even anxiety or depression. In short, besides causing you to feel rotten, it can make your already unpleasant symptoms worse. (Learn more about insomnia and sleeplessness during menopause).
Why is this happening now? During your menopausal years, the same hormonal dips that can cause night sweats and cause dry skin can also wreak havoc on your sleep. Not easy to handle on top of sensitivity to car alarms, keeping one ear open to make sure the kids come home at night, and the never-ending list of things to keep track of during the day.
Here are four tips to help you tackle interrupted sleep.
Get out of bed
It may sound odd, but staying in bed after your eyes open may not help you get back to sleep faster. In fact, ruminating and staring at the ceiling may make your anxiety worse. Consider getting out of bed and moving into a space with calming light and reading a book or putting on music that soothes you. We want our brains to associate the bedroom with sleeping, not working or “watching.”
If TV calms you down, choose a mellow offering like a nature show or a cozy mystery rather than a gripping true crime drama or a bingeable series. Stay awake and watch (with your phone out of view) until you’re really tired, then turn the TV off and go back to bed instead of falling asleep on the couch.
“This strategy is so important and effective because it helps to break the habit of being awake in bed,” says Wendy Troxel, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND Corporation, a scientific advisor for SleepFoundation.org, and author of Sharing the Covers: Every Couple’s Guide to Better Sleep. “It also helps to reduce the frustration and anxiety that inevitably occurs when you lie in bed awake and can’t sleep.”
Embrace the (circadian) rhythm
Why do we wake up with the sun? Why do we get sleepy when it’s dark outside? According to the Sleep Foundation, circadian rhythms are 24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, working in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. When it comes to our sleep/wake cycle, our “master clock” is influenced by environmental cues such as exposure to light.
In a perfect world, we wake up in the morning feeling refreshed and grow tired over the course of a busy day. When our rhythms are thrown off, it can also throw our sleep cycle out of whack, making it especially hard to wake up and fall (and stay) asleep.
“It’s best to maintain a consistent bedtime and wake-up time, as this will help support the internal circadian system that regulates sleep,” says Troxel.
Consider a sleep apnea test
It’s easy to write fitful sleep off as “just menopause.” But sleep apnea, a disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep, affects about 20 million Americans and, according to the Society of Women’s Health Research, one in seven women. When we think of sleep apnea, we tend to associate it with men who snore. Women may exhibit different symptoms or no symptoms at all. And menopause, which can contribute to disrupted sleep, may exacerbate symptoms of sleep apnea.
Here are a few clues to nighttime behavior that may indicate sleep apnea.
- Frequent or loud snoring, gasping, or snorting sounds
- Difficulty falling asleep, frequent awakenings
- Restless sleep
- Frequent bathroom visits at night
- Nighttime heartburn
Now map these symptoms to daytime struggles:
- Feeling sleepy or falling asleep at the wrong time or place
- Forgetfulness, foggy or fuzzy thinking, trouble with focus and concentration
- Feeling depressed, anxious, irritable, or impatient
- Feeling tired or drained, or lacking energy
If this sounds like you, you should talk to your doctor ASAP. If left untreated, sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems including hypertension, stroke, arrhythmia, cardiomyopathy, heart failure, diabetes, obesity, and heart attack.
There are treatments for sleep apnea that can do wonders for cognition and mental and physical health.
You deserve to sleep better
When we were in our 20s, we could party all night and rally the next day for work. Things are different now. Our midlife years are the time to pay attention to our quality of sleep, and to understand the underlying reasons behind our tossing and turning.
Lindsay Goldwert is the content director for Stripes. She's written for the New York Times, Refinery 29, and others. She lives with her husband and cat in New York City.
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