The Importance Of Sleep

Menopause sets in when a woman is in her 40s or 50s, but sometimes as young as their mid-30s. The average age for an Indian woman is 48. At this point in a women’s life they usually have a lot going on, such as a busy career, children or grandchildren to care for and elderly parents in need of help. This makes sleep essential to be able to perform daily tasks and avoid fogginess, memory and concentration problems and fatigue. Sleep deprivation has also been linked to a higher risk of diseases, such as obesity, cardiovascular disease and depression.

Sleep Deprivation Causes During Menopause

There are several reasons why sleep duration and quality are affected during menopause. During perimenopause a woman’s body will gradually produce less oestrogen and progesterone (3). It’s after menopause that sleep problems occur with 61% of women reporting insomnia. Snoring and sleep apnoea also become more likely. Hot flashes are a symptom of menopause and affects 75-85% of women, usually lasting for a year but 25% of women experience them for 5 years. During sleep hot flashes cause the body’s temperature to warm up and disturbs sleep (4). This can happen several times throughout the night and leads to poor sleep quality and fatigue. Sleep can also be disturbed by night sweats that can be caused by the hot flashes but they can be a separate symptom of menopause.

Mood Disorders And Sleep

The change in hormone levels during menopause and its transitional period can often lead to mood disorders, frequently depression and anxiety. 75% of perimenopausal women report that their biggest symptoms are mood and sleep disturbances and one study by Cohen et al. found that menopausal women with no history of depression were twice as likely than premenopausal women to develop depressive disorders and those with hot flashes had an even higher risk (5). Women with a history of depression are up to five times as likely to be diagnosed with a major depressive disorder during both perimenopause and menopause.

Depression has a strong link to sleep disturbances, especially insomnia, so when it is combined with other symptoms of menopause sleep problems can become a very significant problem.

Is Modern Medicine The Answer?

While there are medicines that can help relieve symptoms of menopause or help with sleep some have been linked to other health problems. Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRP) reduces menopausal symptoms, but a large study by the Women’s Health Initiative was stopped as they found a link to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and dementia (6). For those who do choose to opt for hormones it’s recommended that they are used for brief periods, never long-term, and their usefulness varies between women and depends on which form the hormones are taken.

Food That Improves Sleep 

Certain foods have been linked to helping the symptoms of menopause, that will therefore help you to get a better night’s sleep without any side effects. Less oestrogen in the body can lead to bone loss, so you should increase your calcium intake.

Aim to get 1,000-1,200mg of calcium a day from foods like beans, lentils, leafy greens, dairy products and seeds. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables as they are low in calories but high in nutrients. Your body will need the vitamins and minerals from them even more so during menopause.

Weight gain is a symptom too, so eating low calorie foods will fill you up while helping to control your weight. Soya products may help reduce hot flashes as they contain phytoestrogen, which is similar to oestrogen but made by plants, however, there is no consistent research to prove this link yet. Drink plenty of water throughout the day  as it will help with skin dryness and bloating that comes with hormonal changes.

Other Natural Remedies 

Light therapy is often used for mood disorders, particularly seasonal-affective disorder (SAD) because it’s brought on by changes to daylight exposures. Light therapy has been used by the Women’s Health Initiative and has been found effective for both mood and sleep disorders in older women. Improving your sleep hygiene can also be beneficial and can include having a hot bath with essential oils and avoiding technology before bed, along with comfortable bedding to help you rest. Take into account aches and pains that keep you awake and look for a breathable material when looking for top rated mattresses. One study found that participants with a new, medium-firm bed reported a significant decrease in stress, likely down to a better night’s sleep. Regular exercise can help to manage some of your symptoms, including weight gain, stress and mood swings and will improve your overall health. Going for a walk, yoga, dancing and sports are all good forms of exercise.

Menopause is a big biological change in a women’s life, but it’s something a lot of people know very little about until it happens to them or someone close to them. Symptoms vary wildly in individuals, but there is a common trend for sleep problems to arise in many women. There is also a strong link to mood disorders, which is a vicious cycle as these are associated with sleep problems. Natural remedies work for a lot of people and can relieve symptoms with none of the nasty side effects that come with modern medicine, but you have to do what works for you and experimenting with different treatments is the best way to do this.

Ramya Srinivasan, PDGBA, earned her Master’s degree in Business. As a result of her passion in native medicine, she got her Diploma in Traditional Siddha Medicine from Bharat Sevak Samaj registered under the Indian Planning Commission. She is certified by Stanford University School of Medicine in Introduction to Food and Health.