“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 of Women’s Health Source
By Dr. Robert Satriale
Life is full of changes! Unfortunately, as women inch past 40, changes seem to pile up. 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 weekly, women entering and completing menopause seem to develop the lion share.
According to a 2007 National Sleep Foundation poll, 61 percent of women experience symptoms of insomnia at least two or three nights each week.
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 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 frequent, many women note the onset of snoring. 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. Eat right, exercise some during the day and watch your weight.
Keep a regular bedtime and wakeup, even on weekends. Find the number of hours of sleep your body needs (usually between 7-8 hours). 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 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 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 bedtime.
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!
Dr. Robert Satriale is the Medical Director of The Sleep Disorders Center at Exton and a contributor to the Women’s Health Source “Menopause and You” program facilitated by Dr. Beverly Vaughn, gyn at Lankenau Medical Center. Read more about menopause at www.mainlinehealth.org/whs and click on the Menopause and You link.