insomnia cartoon

Hot flashes can turn into night sweats that keep you up until dawn.

Menopause is one of the most natural and universal experiences a person can go through, and yet it can often feel isolating, disorienting, and flat-out confusing. When a topic contains a certain stigma (and let’s face it: menopause does), people can end up asking less questions, discussing the topic with their peers less freely, and generally missing out on the necessary education they need in order to simply understand what’s happening with their own bodies.

That’s one of many reasons why we put such an effort into breaking down common myths and questions around menopause. One such topic that deserves special focus is sleep. The most well-known symptom of menopause might be hot flashes, but what’s less discussed is how those hot flashes can manifest in the form of night sweats, which can flat-out destroy your sleep quality.

We spoke with Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at The Yale University School of Medicine, to better understand why menopause is such an antagonist to good sleep, and how you can get rest in spite of it.

How menopause impacts your sleep quality

If you’re currently experiencing perimenopause or menopause, then rest assured: No, you are probably not an insomniac, and yes, this is happening to way more people than just you.

“Perimenopause and menopause can have significant impacts on sleep,” Dr. Minkin explains. These impacts are wide-ranging: some women experience sleep-disordered breathing like snoring or sleep apnea, for example.

According to Sleep Foundation, once perimenopause begins, a woman’s risk of developing obstructive sleep apnea increases four percent with each year. “Recent research suggests lower progesterone levels, like those observed in postmenopausal women, may contribute to the development of sleep apnea,” they write. “It appears progesterone may prevent the relaxation of the upper airways which causes the lapses in breathing associated with OSA. Further, postmenopausal women on hormone replacement therapy are less likely to have OSA than those who are not.”

The risk of insomnia increases into menopause, with as many as 61 percent of postmenopausal women reporting insomnia symptoms, according to research cited by Sleep Foundation.

Others experience frustrating symptoms like restless legs syndrome.

Of course, one of the most common symptoms of menopause is hot flashes, and those nasty moments can wreak havoc on your sleep cycle.

There’s an interesting paradox to this situation, Dr. Minkin notes. “Most women will also fall asleep readily because they’re exhausted from the previous night’s bad sleep quality,” she says.

In other words, if you’re finding it easy to fall asleep but impossible to stay asleep, then you might be experiencing a cycle of unrest due to menopause disrupting your sleep.

“Your sleep patterns might be very broken by night sweats,” Dr. Minkin says. “Women will wake up suddenly, often drenched in sweat. The episode of the flash/sweat itself usually lasts from 1-5 minutes, but it will tend to keep the woman awake for a lot longer. “

This cycle can repeat itself every few hours throughout the night. If that’s the case for you, then no wonder you wake up feeling groggy, grumpy, and just not your best self the next morning.

“As you can imagine, with interrupted sleep like that, women don’t get the high quality deep restorative sleep that we need,” Dr. Minkin says. “As a result, women can become chronically exhausted.”

How you can improve your sleep quality during menopause

If you feel like menopause is interfering with your sleep, there are a few things you can try that can set up better snoozing conditions — and really, these sleep strategies are a great idea for anyone having sleep troubles, regardless of whether they have menopause or not.

“Women should keep their bedrooms as cool as possible — and if they have a partner, get an electric blanket with dual controls so that they don’t freeze!” Dr. Minkin explains. “I would also suggest avoiding alcohol before bed to try to help sleep.”

Another clever tip by Dr. Minkin is to keep a dry set of pajamas by your bed. “That way, when you wake up sweating, you can get off the wet gown and change to something clean and dry, without being awakened even more searching for dry clothes.”

It’s also worth noting that people generally start to have more sleep challenges as they age — but once you turn 60 or so (or once you get through menopause), you should start to see consistency with your sleep quality, according to recent sleep studies.

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