There are three main ways menopause affects sleep:
Hot flushes and night sweats: The fluctuations in oestrogen and progesterone levels cause a surge in the stress hormone adrenaline. This adrenaline creates a wave of heat in the body, often known as a “hot flush”, and commonly goes hand in hand with intense sweating. Hot flushes and changes in body temperature often wake people from sleeping.
Hormone changes: Progesterone helps calm our nervous system, reduce racing thoughts, and slow our brainwaves down. Estrogen helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle and keeps our body temperature low at night time. The decrease in progesterone and estrogen levels can impact these important elements to a good night’s sleep.
Sleep loss cycle: Night sweats and hormone changes can cause sleep deprivation, resulting in increases in stress hormones in our bodies. This makes it even more difficult to sleep. It is important to take steps to break this vicious sleep loss cycle, so that our body can get the rest it needs.
But what happens when we aren’t getting adequate sleep, especially going through this hormonal transition?
Sleep is the time we heal, regenerate and recover. Without adequate sleep, especially during this transitional time, we can age exponentially. On a physical level, lack of sleep inhibits muscle, bone and tissue repair, affecting our health, fitness, strength, immunity and appearance as well as low energy. Our mood is also affected, causing us to feel grumpy, less motivated, and more anxious. And on a mental level, our thinking becomes less clear and our memory declines.
Managing body temperature
Finding ways to manage your body temperature can go a long way to improving sleep. Here are some ways you can help regulate your body temperature:
- Chose bed linen and nightwear made of natural breathable materials such as cotton
- Consider a gel infused pillow to helps cool your head and face
- Perhaps most importantly, select a mattress that helps regulate your body temperature. A normal mattress warms up and returns the heat of your body back to you. However, graphite foam mattresses optimise body temperature, by absorbing your body’s excess heat. The new Diamond Hybrid mattress by Emma - The Sleep Company features this graphite technology, creating a deeper, more restful sleep.
- Just chill out… our body temperature increases with stress and falls with relaxation.
What to do if you struggle to fall asleep
Because a reduction in progesterone can increase racing thoughts, try to calm your nervous system before bed, by doing something relaxing such as reading, slow-paced breathing or meditation. This will activate your parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system, as well as reduce your core body temperature, for a better night’s sleep.
If you can’t drift off to sleep easily once you’re in bed, check in to ensure that the only thoughts you are having are ones that put a smile on your face. Consciously work your way through relaxing the various muscles in your body, whilst slowing your breathing. If you find this difficult, try listening to a guided sleep relaxation that calms you.
The power of your mind
I ask my clients to begin to observe what they were thinking about prior to the temperature peak. Whilst their initial response is often “I wasn’t thinking about anything”, once they begin to become aware of what they have been thinking about before bed, or prior to a spike in heat, they often begin to identify that they have had anxious or stressful thoughts.
These may be thoughts about what may go wrong in the future, or what someone may have thought of them. The more we tame our minds during the daytime as well as before bed, the less likely we are to wake up with such severe night sweats.
When hot flushes occur, as uncomfortable as they may be, I encourage people to “ride the wave” of the heat, rather than getting stressed about it, so as not to increase the adrenaline levels even further. Frustration will only cause the hot flash to intensify.
Elina Winne is a sleep expert and a brand ambassador for Emma - The Sleep Company.