Guest Blog: Menopause and Insomnia
With 30-60% of women suffering from insomnia symptoms when going through menopause, if you’ve found yourself spending more time awake at night as you reach this stage of life, then you are not alone.
We’ve all heard of hot flashes occurring as a symptom of the menopause, and these are the most frequent cause of night-time awakenings, but you may be surprised to hear it’s often not the trigger which matters, but rather how we behave as a result of it.
For example, if after a few nights of bad sleep we wake up feeling hot and panicky, checking the clock and realising we don’t have long left before our alarm, this can lead us to start thinking negatively about sleep.
If this cycle continues for a few days, pretty quickly we will try and make changes to correct the problem; from Googling it to giving up caffeine, changing the time we go to bed or buying sleep supplements.
The more we do to fix our sleep, the more we worry about and focus on sleep leading to us spending more and more time in bed, awake. We end up creating a connection with our bed and anxiety/frustration so that bed eventually becomes a cue for negative feelings and disrupted sleep.
Throw hot flashes into the mix and bed also becomes a place of panic as we try to cool ourselves down. It’s easy to see why this is far from an ideal scenario for good quality sleep.
There are many sleep aids and sleep hygiene tips on the internet, but the reality is that we don’t actually need any of this to sleep well. CBT for insomnia is a course of treatment that helps people understand what they need to sleep well and changes their habits and behaviours to promote better quality of sleep. With NHS recommended techniques, between 70-80% of people see improved sleep, often in under four weeks.
Often all of the chamomile teas, sleep sprays and eye masks just get in the way and takes the focus off something which is actually a natural process. Ask yourself this, if we needed an hour of yoga, an eye mask, ear plugs and a chamomile tea to sleep, wouldn’t we all be doing it?
CBT-i is recommended by the NHS as has repeatedly been shown to help menopausal women improve their sleep, using techniques which will increase their body’s natural drive to sleep better and also reduce the worry and anxiety attached to poor sleep.
Here are my top tips to improve sleep in menopause:
- Don’t spend too long in bed. The first thing we do when we can’t sleep is start going to bed earlier to try and increase our opportunity for sleeping. Reduce the amount of time you spend in bed, go to bed later and get up earlier. This will encourage your body’s natural sleep drive to kick in. By reducing the time you spend in bed you will crave more sleep, fall asleep faster and find your quality of sleep will improve.
- Set a wake time and stick to it, regardless of how badly you have slept. By getting up early you will train your body clock to associate mornings with being awake. Staying in bed, dozing, often results in grogginess and low mood, so instead get up, have a cuppa and get some fresh air and exercise rather than trying to catch up on lost sleep.
- Stop clock-watching. If you are waking from hot flashes then it is very tempting to look at the clock with each wakening to monitor how little sleep you are getting. However, this increases the pressure to fall back to sleep and makes it less likely. Set your alarm for the morning then avoid looking at the time again.
- Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t get to sleep after a hot flash or can’t fall asleep, get out of bed. The longer we lie in bed trying to fall back to sleep the more frustrated we get. This, in turn, means we begin to subconsciously relate bed to feeling stressed and being awake rather than asleep and it makes it more likely that this pattern will continue. Leave the bedroom and do something relaxing like read a book downstairs, then when you are tired go back to bed.
- Don’t worry about it. The worst thing you can do is worry, as worrying about sleep is worse than not sleeping. Not sleeping just makes you tired, and you have been tired before. But worrying about sleep makes you stressed, anxious and low. Follow the above tips to give yourself the best possible chance of sleeping well, but outside of that accept that sleep is not the only thing you can do to feel better. Try to leave a bad night behind you and focus on the day ahead. Go for a walk, get some fresh air and eat healthily to improve energy levels rather than just focusing on sleep.
For more tips and advice why not purchase the Sleep Well, Live Better Online Course which can guide you through the evidence-based steps you need to take to improve your sleep. The course is designed by Kathryn Pinkham, NHS Insomnia Specialist and Founder of The Insomnia Clinic. Kathryn and her team have helped thousands of people to sleep well over the past 10 years and have launched the course to make the treatment accessible to everyone.
Kathryn is one of our Guest Writers from The Insomnia Clinic
Click here to read more about Kathryn and what she does;