If you're in your forties and your sleep is suffering, you're not alone.
Because hormone levels change so much in early menopause, sleep can be impacted. And early menopause can be anywhere from 3 to 5 years before menopause really begins. That means that 40-something-year-old women are often struggling with sleep disturbances without showing any other symptoms of menopause.
How Hormones Change Sleep Patterns
The menstrual cycle has three phases:
- Follicular phase. This starts with menstrual bleeding and marks the development of the follicle that the egg comes from.
- Ovulatory phase. This short phase includes the release of the egg, and is accompanied by shifts in hormone levels.
- Luteal phase. Progesterone and estrogen levels remain high while the body prepares for possible fertilization of the egg. When fertilization doesn't occur, the cycle starts over.
As you get closer to menopause, the progesterone and estrogen levels in the luteal phase can vary much more. During menopause, progesterone levels fall, but during the pre-menopause stage, they can vary unpredictably.
Research involving the study of sleep cycles in pre-menopausal women shows that the hormone fluctuation during the luteal phase leads to increased sleep problems. During the pre-menopause stage, progesterone levels can rise and fall during the luteal phase. This leads to more awakenings and arousals each hour and a smaller amount of slow wave sleep.
Can Hormone Therapy or Supplements Help?
Once women hit menopause, they can talk to their doctors about hormone replacement therapy and other options if they are having problems with sleep. But in the pre-menopause stage, most physicians will not prescribe hormone supplements.
Some doctors recommend the use of herbal supplements, but you need to be very careful with what you take. Popular supplements like black cohosh may not be effective and may cause liver damage. Work with your doctor to assess any supplement you take, even over the counter options, so you choose an effective product and use the correct dosage for your symptoms.
Other Ways to Improve Sleep
You can use other methods to improve your sleep and your overall health:
- Eating a healthy diet. Good nutrition can help you sleep better and longer. Avoid big meals before bed and reduce caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol intake.
- Reduce stress so your sleep isn't impacted. Exercise regularly and adopt techniques to assist you in relaxing, like focused breathing, prayer, or meditation.
- Sleep cool. You may not be having literal hot flashes, but you can be warmer during sleep. Wear lighter pajamas and avoid heavy blankets.
You may not be able to avoid menopause symptoms and sleep disturbances, but being healthy and reducing stress can help you cope. Talk to your doctor for more help with pre-menopausal treatments.