Women’s bodies exist in a constant state of change, so the transition through menopause at the end of a woman’s fertile years is simply another step in the female experience. Menopause is a natural process in which women cease to have menstrual cycles. This change is officially diagnosed after a woman has gone 12 months without a menstrual period. There is a wide age range during which it is normal to start menopause, but it generally can happen between the ages of 40 and 50.
Your body will not go through menopause overnight, but instead, transition over a period of several years, usually lasting 2-10 years. During this time of perimenopause, your body will experience hormonal changes, release eggs less frequently, and encounter several normal, albeit very uncomfortable, symptoms. Many of the most common perimenopausal symptoms include mood changes, hot flashes, night sweats, headaches, and trouble with sleep.
Lack of sleep is perhaps one of the most daunting symptoms because the rest of the changes are especially difficult to handle if you aren’t well-rested.
Three Stages Of Menopause
It is especially important to consult a female health specialist during menopause to determine what stage of menopause your body is going through. Each stage is natural and inevitable, but you can best prepare for each stage if you know what to expect.
- Perimenopause can initially be difficult to diagnose, especially since many of the symptoms are similar to normal PMS. Your doctor may order blood tests to determine your hormone levels if he or she suspects that you are beginning perimenopause. This period of time is often very different for each woman as there is a wide range of possible symptoms, but perimenopause is likely to be the most bothersome stage as your body adjusts to lower estrogen production.
- Menopause is diagnosed after you have gone a full year without a period. It’s important to remember that this change can be different for everyone. Just as your menstrual period symptoms were different from that of your friends, your menopausal symptoms will also be different, so it is not useful to compare yourself to others. During this time, generally 1-3 years, you may continue to experience symptoms of perimenopause, or they may begin to drop off. This is the time during which your body becomes permanently infertile, producing no new eggs and having no menstrual periods.
- Postmenopause occurs after 26-34 months after your period has completely stopped and your menopausal symptoms have decreased. Your body is no longer fertile, but you should experience a certain amount of relief from symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. You are likely to still experience some hormone-related symptoms as you age, so it is especially important to maintain an exercise regimen, healthy diet, and high calcium intake.
How Menopause Affects Sleep
During the stages of menopause, women experience a decrease in the production of estrogen and progesterone, which can affect sleep and even cause disorders such as sleep apnea, a condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts. Other menopausal issues affecting sleep include, but are not limited to, hot flashes and night sweats, anxiety, and headaches.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Hot flashes and night sweats are some of the most common symptoms that women experience throughout the process of menopause. Hot flashes can occur throughout the day and may manifest as feelings of intense body heat. Night sweats are considered hyperhidrosis, or intense sweating, and they occur as a result of a hot flash during sleep when your body is enclosed in bedding and not immediately able to cool down. Not only can night sweats wake you up from heat, but you are likely going to be so drenched and uncomfortable that you will want to change your pajamas and maybe even your bedding, a chore that will make it even harder to fall back to sleep. Old mattresses that lack support and hold in heat can also exacerbate menopausal symptoms, so you may want to look into a new, affordable mattress options.
Our emotions are deeply connected to our hormones, so it should be no surprise that significant changes in our hormone production can result in periods of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Just as our emotions are often affected by our menstrual cycles, so too can they be impacted by the changes associated with menopause. You may be especially likely to experience significant emotional changes and insomnia during menopause if you had mood swings during menstrual cycles or if you have a history of clinical depression.
Headaches and Migraines
Headaches or migraines are also likely to occur or worsen during the stages of menopause. Especially during the hormone fluctuations of perimenopause, you may be plagued with headaches that affect your daily activity, and especially your sleep. Unfortunately, migraines and lack of sleep can coexist in a vicious cycle — your migraines are preventing you from getting a good night of sleep, and your lack of sleep is triggering more frequent and intense migraines. Luckily, lifestyle changes, exercise, and good sleep hygiene can go a long way toward helping you cope with headaches and sleeplessness.
Easing The Symptoms To Get Better Sleep
There are several steps you can take to ease the symptoms of menopause; some of which are easy to incorporate into your day-to-day lifestyle, while others may require a visit to your doctor.
One easy step you can take to ease your menopause symptoms and get better sleep is to incorporate more plant-based food into your diet. Vasomotor menopausal symptoms (VMSs), like hot flashes and night sweats are some of the most inconvenient symptoms, but luckily they can be reduced by diet changes. Healthy plant-based diets, especially Mediteranean style, have been shown to significantly reduce VMSs.
If you are especially plagued by symptoms related to hormone production, it’s possible your doctor may suggest Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). This therapy seeks to supplement your body’s production of estrogen. If you are thinking about going this route, it is very important to consult with your physician first to see if this is the right option for you.
If you are interested in taking other natural steps to menopausal symptom relief, take a look at our lists of foods to avoid, herbal remedies, cool sleep products, and headache solutions.
Foods to avoid
- Spicy foods can raise anyone’s core temperature, so if you are experiencing heat-related menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, you may want to cut these out of your diet.
- Caffeinated beverages can aggravate VMSs and increase insomnia. If coffee or caffeinated tea is an important part of your day and you cannot go without it, make sure not to consume caffeine after midday.
- High-sugar diets and processed carbohydrates can increase bloating and cause weight gain. These symptoms are especially difficult to combat during menopause and may further decrease your overall energy and increase emotional turbulence.
- Alcohol intake can also increase VMS symptoms and negatively affect sleep. If light alcohol intake is part of your weekly routine, consider switching to beer. Some research suggests that regular and moderate intake of the polyphenols commonly found in hops and beer may relieve some menopausal symptoms.
- Fatty meats can make you feel sluggish and less likely to exercise. They can also increase weight gain common during menopause.
- Black Cohosh is one of the most widely used herbs for fighting menopausal symptoms. It can alleviate hot flashes and night sweats. This herb is usually administered in a pill or powder supplement.
- Red Clover, like black cohosh, may help alleviate heat related menopause symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats. This herb is best administered in an oil or extract from the plant.
- Ginseng can help aid sleep and increase feelings of calmness and well-being. Ginseng is often found in herbal tea blends, and readily available in many forms at your grocery store.
- Kava may decrease feelings of anxiety, but it may also pose a risk of liver damage. Please consult with your healthcare professional before introducing Kava to your diet.
- Soybeans contain phytoestrogens that may increase your body’s production of estrogen, which may alleviate hormone related symptoms. Soy can be consumed easily through tofu, soymilk, or simply in edamame form as a healthy snack.
- Flaxseed and sesame seeds also contain phytoestrogens that may alleviate menopausal symptoms related to reduced production in estrogen. These can be added as a garnish to many meals or ground up in smoothies.
Tips to sleeping cooler
Since VSMs and heat related symptoms have the worst impact on sleep, women experiencing these symptoms may be interested in cooling pajamas. These pajamas are made of light, breathable fabrics that wick away moisture to help you sleep cool and dry. Take a look at these top rated cooling pajama brands:
If your bedding is holding onto your night sweats, you likely won’t be able to fall back asleep after an episode. The chillow is a cooling memory foam pillow that provides relief from night sweats and migraines. You can buy one from a few different places:
- Cold Compresses can help to numb the throbbing pain associated with headaches and muscle tension to help you to sleep.
- Exercise and especially yoga can help to relieve tension and stress from your body. These practices can also help you to use up any restless energy before bed.
- Ginger tea can help relax muscles that may tense-up in reaction to headache related pain. This tea also has the added benefit of soothing any nausea related to migraines.
- Massage can increase blood flow and aid in relaxation. It can alleviate the symptoms of both headaches and anxiety that may be preventing you from sleeping.
- Essential oils, especially lavender and rosemary, can calm the mind and increase circulation, aiding you in obtaining a more restful sleep experience.
The Bottom Line
Menopause is an inevitable process that our bodies will experience as we age. There are uncomfortable symptoms that manifest throughout the three stages of menopause, but there are steps we can take to retain our comfort, sleep, and well-being that are either all-natural (such as herbal remedies and practicing good eating habits), or recommended by your doctor.