How to Deal With Menopause-Related Insomnia
Here’s what to understand about the link between menopause and insomnia, plus tips for getting a good–or at least a decent–night’s sleep.
The Link Between Menopause and Insomnia
Hormones are largely to blame for sleep disturbances during menopause. As estrogen production declines, women can experience hot flashes, sweats, anxiety, and mood swings. All of these can contribute to issues falling and staying asleep, which reduces the amount of time spent in restorative sleep–something everyone needs. It’s a vicious cycle. The more sleep issues people experience, the more likely they are to experience anxiety about not sleeping.
Progesterone production also declines during menopause, which may be associated with sleep disturbances. And then there’s melatonin, the sleep hormone, which is influenced by both estrogen and progesterone. As the production of these hormones decreases, so does melatonin, which contributes to the problem of insufficient sleep.
Hot flashes and night sweats can also cause insomnia. These symptoms disrupt sleep and cause wakefulness, making it hard to fall back to sleep.
5 Tips That Could Help Improve your Sleep
Navigating the transition to menopause and the subsequent effects on sleep isn’t easy, but there are things you can do to get some rest.
Research indicates there may be a relationship between foods that are high on the glycemic index (GI) and insomnia in postmenopausal women. Foods with a high GI contain carbohydrates that can raise blood sugar levels quickly. Refined carbs like white and whole wheat bread, white rice, breakfast cereals and bars, baked goods, chips, rice crackers, potatoes and french fries are all high GI foods, but so are some fruits, including watermelon and pineapple.
The rapid increase in blood sugar that occurs after eating these foods triggers the release of insulin in the body to stabilize blood sugar levels, which can be accompanied by hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Both can interfere with sleep.
Replacing high GI foods with minimally processed, fiber-rich, whole carbs may help improve symptoms of insomnia by keeping blood sugar levels stable.
Keep your bedroom cool
Women with menopausal symptoms are likely to experience hot flashes and night sweats, both of which are exacerbated by warmer temperatures. If you have good sleep hygiene, you’re likely already keeping your bedroom cool.
Cooler sleep temperatures–somewhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit–are recommended for better sleep, because overly warm or cold exposure is associated with increased wakefulness and a reduction in REM sleep.
However, as you age, it’s not uncommon to need to adjust sleeping temperatures slightly. Body temperature decreases as you get older, and so do melatonin and cortisol levels. You may find you sleep better with a degree or two cooler than you did a few years ago.
Beginning a yoga practice may help address some of the psychological symptoms of menopause, which may have a positive effect on sleep. Some studies find that yoga improves the stress and anxiety associated with menopause. Addressing these conditions may relax the mind and the body for a greater chance of sleep.
For those who find the transition to menopause is causing stress and anxiety, exploring healthy ways to manage these feelings can be helpful. In addition to yoga, aromatherapy may improve mood, promote relaxation, and ease stress. Studies also show it might reduce hot flashes, which often contribute to sleep disruptions.
Minimizing caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine
Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine are all associated with sleep issues. Caffeine is a stimulant, and alcohol may have an initial sleepy effect, but it actually reduces sleep quality overall. Nicotine is also linked to sleep disturbances, and so is the withdrawal process. Still, if these are habits in which you indulge, taking step to replace them with healthier habits are likely to improve sleep quality.
When to Talk With Your Doctor
If sleep hygiene best practices, stress management, and nutritional changes aren’t improving your insomnia, it’s important to see your doctor. There are treatments and medications available to help treat the symptoms of menopause, which may help improve related sleep interruptions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What helps with insomnia during menopause?
Lifestyle changes, including improved nutrition, yoga, stress management, and proper sleep hygiene, may help improve insomnia during menopause. If you’re waking up overheated and sweaty, adjusting your sleeping temperature may also help.
What is menopause insomnia like?
Insomnia during the transition to menopause can be related to hot flashes and night sweats, both of which are disruptive to sleep. You may also find it difficult to fall asleep, or find yourself waking up unexpectedly in the night and having a hard time getting back to sleep.
Why does menopause cause lack of sleep?
Menopause can cause insomnia for a few reasons. Hormonal changes are a major contributor to sleep disturbances. Hot flashes and night sweats disrupt sleep as well. Growing older impacts melatonin production as well, leading to sleep disturbances. Finally, it’s not uncommon for those experiencing menopausal symptoms to find it takes a toll on their mental health, creating anxiety and depression. These conditions can affect sleep as well.
The transition to menopause is associated with a number of challenging symptoms, and insomnia is often one of them. The hormonal changes, night sweats, and hot flashes experienced during menopause, along with the psychological toll it can have, can all impact sleep quality. If this is something you’re navigating, lifestyle changes may help, and it can be helpful to speak with your doctor to learn more about treatment options.
(2021). Sleep problems and menopause: What can I do? https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/sleep-problems-and-menopause-what-can-i-do
Atkinson, F., et al. (2008). International tables of glycemic index and glycemic load values: 2008. https://diabetesjournals.org/care/article/31/12/2281/24911/International-Tables-of-Glycemic-Index-and
Baker, F., et al. (2018). Sleep and sleep disorders in the menopausal transition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6092036/
Currie, H. (2021). Menopause and insomnia. https://www.womens-health-concern.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/17-WHC-FACTSHEET-Menopause-and-insomnia-NOV2022-B.pdf
Jehan, S., et al. (2015). Sleep disorders in postmenopausal women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4621258/
Johnson, A., et al. (2019). Complementary and alternative medicine for menopause. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2515690X19829380
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