Women don’t need to take the negative effects of hormone changes that come with aging lying down – it’s time to fight back!
There’s a saying that you can’t avoid death and taxes. For women, let’s add menopause to this nasty list. It’s a fact of life that becomes a reality at an average age of 51 in the U.S. The onset of menopause means a smorgasbord of physical and emotional changes, from weight gain to mood swings and sleep disruption. The responsibility for such upheavals falls squarely on decreasing levels of estrogen.
But before Menopause even rears its ugly head, insomnia and hot flashes herald the onset of perimenopause, that awkward stage leading up to menopause and the end of monthly cycles occurring when a woman hits her late 40s or early 50s.
An estimated 40% of menopausal women will experience sleep problems, according to the National Sleep Foundation. And 75% of those sleep difficulties can be chocked up to hot flashes or night sweats, which feels like someone has swapped out your bed sheets for Saran Wrap. Sleep apnea also jumps about 16% from women ages 50 to 60, while melatonin levels decline.
That’s bad news for slumber time & women in the throes of menopause…
“Hot flashes and night sweats are caused by a complex interaction between fluctuating estrogen levels in the hypothalamus (a region of the brain that regulates body temperature), norepinephrine, (a key brain chemical, and specialized receptors in the brain) and the body’s blood vessels and sweat glands,” explains Dr. Carolyn Dean, a physician and naturopathic doctor based in Kihei, Hawaii, as well as a medical advisory board member of the Nutritional Magnesium Association.
“The hypothalamus, a region of the brain that regulates body temperature and is affected by hormones, can become confused by these changes in estrogen levels. Like a faulty thermostat, the hypothalamus may respond to the changes in estrogen as if it senses an increase in your body’s temperature. In an attempt to cool you down, the hypothalamus sets off a cascade of events, including dilating blood vessels to release heat (which you feel as a hot flash) and triggering sweat glands (which you experience as sudden, intense perspiration). The result is you wake up drenched and chilly, with a racing heart and a sensation of anxiety.”
The good news is that there is a myriad of ways to minimize the impact of menopause and the sleep issues that come with it. From simple diet changes to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) prescribed from your doctor, there’s no need to suffer. There’s help to be had!
6 savvy ways to tackle sleep disruptions caused by menopause
- Be cool. Keep a small fan handy on your bedside table for those times when night sweats occur. In good weather, open your windows and let the breeze flow through your bedroom. A slightly chilly, well-ventilated sleeping environment is your best friend.
- Loosen up. Your choice of sleep attire matters. Ban the flannel for a while and choose light, flowing fabrics. Also consider menopause-friendly bedtime outfit from Cool-jams Sleepwear, created by Anita Mahaffey. She designed a line of clothing that helps with nighttime temperature regulation to ensure wearers get a better sleep. The secret is the fabric. “It has been scientifically developed to wick excessive heat and moisture away from the sky to the outside of the fabric so you don’t get too hot or too cold,’ says Mahaffey. “A perfection solution for a menopausal night!”
- Sleep nude. It’s not surprising that the American Association for Nude Recreation is all for it. Public relations/communications Alexandra Schuttauf says, “Go to sleep with nothing between you and the sheets. Multiple recent studies have linked weight gain and obesity to lack of sleep. And one of the most popular ways that people are getting a better night’s sleep is by shedding their pajamas and inhibitions and reaping the rewards of increased comfort.”
- Choose better bedtime snacks. Spice isn’t so nice when you’re trying to keep cool. It can bring on a heat wave and trigger a hot flash. Stick to a glass of milk or a piece of fruit, like a banana, which contains tryptophan, a sleep-boosting amino acid. Caffeine is also no go, so nix tea and coffee, as well as chocolate and many soft drinks (not just cola) that contain it.
- Boost your magnesium intake. Research has shown that magnesium, a mineral that plays an important role in everything from heart health to stress reduction, decreases during menopause. Even in the best of times, most Americans (estimates range from 60% to 90%) are low on magnesium. Dr. Dean suggests adding ¼ to 1/2 teaspoon of sea or Himalayan salt (both may contain magnesium) to every quart of drinking water, or sipping on water throughout the day with magnesium citrate powder. The water also helps rehydrate the body after it loses electrolytes after those pesky night sweats. Post-menopausal women should be taking in 320 mg of magnesium daily. Always talk to your health-care provider before taking any kind of supplement.
- Talk to your doc about HRT. As the traditional treatment for menopause symptoms, Hormone Replacement Therapy may offer women some relief. Some studies have linked higher doses of estrogen with an increase the risk of stroke and breast cancer diagnosis though. Discuss what may work best for your health with a physician, who may suggest a low dose of estrogen and flag any potential health risks based on your medical history.
- Go natural. Results from studies focusing on soy have been mixed when it comes to its effectiveness for treating hot flashes. Tofu and soybeans contain phytoestrogen, a natural plant hormone that acts like a weak form of estrogen, which has shown to lower cholesterol. But there has been more promising news around black cohosh, a perennial plant. Research found it offered some short-term relief from hot flashes and a reduction in other menopausal symptoms.