Sleep and Menopause (5-Minute Read)

Menopause Woman in bed not sleeping holding alarm clock
Connie Pretula Headshot

Connie Pretula

Connie Pretula is an inspiring health coach and Menopause Navigator to mature women, using a holistic approach to nutrition and life.

April 9, 2024

I love this quote by William Shakespeare “Innocent sleep. Sleep that soothes away all our worries. Sleep that puts each day to rest. Sleep that relieves the weary labourer and heals hurt minds. Sleep, the main course in life’s feast, and the most nourishing.”

Such true words and yet sleep can be so elusive for some.

I’ve shared in previous posts that the disturbances can come from the symptoms that women experience, such as night sweats, they also come from the change in the production of progesterone and other hormones.

Progesterone can help women feel more relaxed and sleep better. When the hormone fluctuations start to happen in perimenopause, this is when sleep patterns can start to change. It can be very subtle and a woman may not even realize that her sleep is changing initially. For some, the change can be very disrupting to the point of experiencing insomnia like symptoms.

Sleep is what supports our body’s natural healing process with the release of human growth hormone and melatonin. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is believed that the hours of 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. is when some of the major organs assist the body with the detox process. It starts with the gallbladder, then the liver, next the lungs, then the large intestine.

Our brain needs sleep to help sort through all of the information we took in during the day by filing it into short and long term memories. The brain also has its own filtration system called the glymphatic system which removes waste from the brain. Sleep helps us stay more focused during the day and can set the tone of our mood and emotions for the day.

Sleep helps to regulate hormones which can have an effect on how we eat and our metabolism. Leptin helps us feel satiated after eating, ghrelin tells us to eat. When sleep patterns change and quality sleep is reduced, leptin decreases which leaves more ghrelin in the bloodstream, this can cause a change in eating patterns. Another hormone called adiponectin helps with glucose control. The changes in these hormones can cause cravings that can’t be satisfied and lead to overeating. The changes in leptin and adiponectin seem to affect women more than men.

If a woman goes to her doctor and the doctor is not well versed on menopause, many women are prescribed sleeping pills or antidepressants. When these don’t make a difference, she returns to the doctor and the medications might be changed or increased. This can become a vicious cycle and the woman is feeling no relief and in some cases left with no answers. This can be the beginning of feeling very alone and lost because she is not sure why she is experiencing these changes and not sure what to do. The number of doctors who are better informed on menopause is increasing but there are many who still are unaware of what to look for and how to properly care for their female patients.

Another aspect of change is the reduction of estrogen. It is another component of sleep but it also helps with skin elasticity and tightness. As estrogen levels drop, the tissue in the throat can become more lax which can cause snoring and in some cases, sleep apnea. It can be commonly accepted that men will snore but a woman being told she snores can have a big effect on her self-esteem. Suddenly she is feeling less sexy which has nothing to do with her partner, she is trying to grasp what is happening. And, if her partner snores, well, sleep has become even more difficult for her.

Lighter sleep or lack of sleep can also increase trips to the bathroom throughout the night. When we are in a deep sleep there is a hormone called vasopressin that is released. It reduces the amount of urine produced by the kidneys during the night. There is a relationship between deep sleep and the release of vasopressin.

Anyone, male or female, who has gone a few days without a proper sleep, knows how difficult it can be to navigate a day and everything that comes with life.

Add in family and household responsibilities and a career, and her life can feel overwhelming and out of control. 

For the people around her, the changes in emotions and moods may seem like she has decided to to show up depressed or angry, reality is, she doesn’t entirely have control over what is happening in her body.

For some women, one of the hormone therapy options may help. Lifestyle, nutrition and exercise are very important while navigating the stages of menopause and can make a big difference.

Alcohol, sugar and refined or highly processed foods do not support sleep, they make it worse. When a woman is making decisions to cut out certain foods or beverages, the last thing she needs is pressure to join in or questioned as to why she is making these changes. 

Menopause is a normal transition in a woman’s life. What each woman experiences, is unique to her. She needs support and understanding and these changes can make everyone in the household or her inner circle healthier in the long run.

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Thank you for reading my words.

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