For women, sleep can be elusive at every stage of life. But perhaps none more so than the menopause years.
I hear from exhausted patients all the time who would feel so much better – and be able to handle the symptoms of menopause so much easier – if they could just get some sleep. Instead, sleepless nights leave them beyond tired, irritable, foggy, and stressed. The more stressed they get, the more sleep problems they have. It’s a vicious and dangerous cycle.
Chronic sleep disturbances shouldn’t be taken lightly. They can have serious implications on your daytime functioning, your productivity, your safety, and your mental and physical well-being.
If your menopause transition brought with it new sleep challenges, talk to your doctor. Treatments are available to improve your quality of life and your health. Your OB/GYN can help diagnose the root cause or causes of your sleep problems, determine the right treatments for you, and engage sleep experts if needed.
In some cases, for example, we refer our patients to the Sleep Center at Baylor College of Medicine, for diagnosis and treatment of serious sleep disorders such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.
Sleeping problems can be the result of a combination of factors, from menopause symptoms to general aging issues. Night sweats caused by hot flashes is one of the most common sleep complaints I hear from patients. Anxiety and emotional distress that many women experience during this stage of life are also frequently to blame, with patients laying awake at night, their minds racing over common stressors like empty nest syndrome, marital problems caused by a lack of sex drive, or the physical and mental demands of simultaneously caring for children and aging parents.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the menopause stage of life also brings with it increasing health challenges that can disrupt a woman’s sleep, from urinary problems to chronic pain. Worse yet, the medications used to treat those conditions may compound your sleep problems.
The North American Menopause Society recently released a new publication on menopause and sleep problems that includes tips to help improve your sleep. Among them:
- Make sure your sleep environment is quiet, cool, and dark.
- Place an ice pack under your pillow and turn the pillow over during the night so that your face rests on the cool side.
- Follow the 15-minute rule. If you aren’t asleep within 15 minutes, get up, go do something relaxing in another room, then go back to bed when you are drowsy.
- Avoid alcohol, which is initially a sedative but often results in disrupted sleep.
- Watch for caffeine in pain relievers, diuretics, allergy and cold medications, and weight-control aids.
Too often, women consider a good night’s sleep a luxury or a rare treat. It’s time to wake up to the vital role sleep plays in your physical and mental well-being, especially during the menopause years, and get some much-needed rest.
–By Dr. Nina Ali, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine