Sleeping Well With Menopause By Robert Satriale, MD
Medical Director of The Sleep Disorders Center at Exton
We all crave and need a good night’s sleep. For some women, it may
be hard to achieve. Dr. Robert Satriale, Medical Director of The Sleep
Disorders Center at Exton, reviews for us some of the causes for poor
sleep and gives us some strategies for getting back to sleep. — Beverly
Vaughn, MD, Medical Coordinator, Menopause and You Program
Life is full of changes! Unfortunately, as women inch past 40, changes
seem to pile up. From having to deal with their teenagers’ hormones to
dealing with their own, women tend to face more challenges than men.
Getting a good night’s sleep appears to be one of them. And though the
problem of falling and staying sleep affects one out of nine Americans
on weekly, women entering and completing menopause seem to develop the
According to a 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll, 61 percent of women
experience symptoms of insomnia at least two or three nights each week.
So that lack of energy that hangs like a weight on the shoulders of many
women of this age may not be “just getting older.”
Sleep is a complex process that relies on a regular cycle of bright
light during day and darkness at night, a regular sleep and wake-up
time, good diet and exercise, a peaceful mind, and a regular cycle of
hormones. Unfortunately, since the lifestyle of the 21st century already
conflicts with these behaviors, it is no wonder shrinking supplies of
estrogen and progestins complicate this sensitive circadian rhythm.
Hot flashes, the calling card of menopause, generally begin in the four
to eight years leading up to menopause. With these arise the tossing and
turning, the nighttime worrying or planning that won’t stop, and those 3
am wake-up calls with night sweats.
As menstrual periods become less and less frequent, many women note the
onset of snoring (or worse, their husband’s sleep apnea). With sleep
apnea, daytime fatigue may unexpectedly progress to sleepiness,
forgetfulness, lack of focus, and irritability. Without thinking, women
may simply sigh and say, “must be my hormones.”
So how can a woman move into that 39% of good sleepers? Plan ahead
before menopause: good sleep starts with good habits, not only for
yourself, but also for your family. Eat right, exercise some during the
day (but not too close to bedtime) and watch your weight (those things
your doctor always tell you).
Keep a regular bedtime and wakeup, even on weekends. More importantly,
find your number, that is, the number of hours of sleep your body needs
(usually between 7-8 hours, but everyone is different). Too much time in
bed may translate into too much time awake, subconsciously reinforcing
the idea that your bed is a difficult place to sleep (if you sleep
better on vacation, this may be why). If you are spending hours awake in
bed, try going to bed later: you’ll probably get the same amount of
sleep without being awake so much.
Make sure your room is actually conducive to sleep. Take the TV out of
the bedroom. Block out excessive light, noise and pets. Use your bed for
only sleep and sex (no business work or e-mails).
If you feel you cannot fall back to sleep when you awaken in the middle
of the night, go to another room and read a boring book or magazine
until you are ready to sleep again. Dress lightly and don’t bury
yourself under a pile of blankets. Get a small fan that comforts you
without bothering your bed-partner.
Avoid caffeine and stimulating medications (like decongestants) after
noon; do not have alcohol within three hours of sleep. Consider
alternative supplements such as melatonin 3 mgs two hours prior to
Still troubled? Talk to your doctor or see a board-certified sleep
specialist; there may be some other sleep disorder lurking beneath the
surface. Then get a good night’s sleep!
This article is part of the Menopause and You library,
a Web-based program sponsored by Women’s Health Source.
It is intended as an information resource providing guidelines for
women. As always, check with your own healthcare practitioner with your
specific concerns and questions.
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