Good sleep is important for health and well-being at any age, but many women in midlife can really struggle to achieve this. In fact, disrupted sleep is one of the biggest issues that troubles women in peri menopause and menopause transition, with studies indicating that 40-60% of women are affected.
Even for women who have always been good sleepers, peri menopause can literally signal the end of a good night’s sleep overnight. Frustratingly there’s no single cause, and identifying what factor or factors are affecting a woman can take time and patience to unpick. And, as with many things menopause, everyone is different.
Read on to find out why sleep disruption happens in midlife and, importantly, what can be done to help.
Sleep disruption can broadly be categorised into three areas: biological, psychological and social stressors:
With so much going on, and so many factors to consider, it’s no wonder many women are at their wits end. At the time in their life where stress is at it’s highest, their ability to cope is less. They can’t tolerate social demands and stressors. They can’t sleep and constantly worry. It’s a vicious circle that can be hard to break, but addressing sleep issues and understanding what causes them can improve things.
When it comes to sleep, it’s quality not quantity that matters. While eight hours is often quoted as the optimum sleep requirement, there’s actually very little evidence to support this – other than it being a very rough average, and an easy number to report on.
In fact, it’s more important to focus on the quality of the sleep you’re getting rather than how many hours you actually sleep. A shorter amount of good quality sleep is far better for the body than a night-time of broken sleep. It’s also worth remembering there’s no one size fits all with sleep. So, whatever a fitness tracker might try to tell you your sleep goal should be, chances are it’s wrong.
Sleeping less is also a natural part of ageing. Much like the rest of our body, sleep centres in our brain also age and we need less sleep; we can’t turn back the clock.
Sleep disruption in menopause can sometimes simply be down to hormones or other symptoms that disrupt sleep. However, sleep disruption triggered by menopause can also develop into insomnia, and it’s important to speak with a doctor if disruption is persistent.
However, menopause and insomnia aren’t the only sleep disorders out there, and other conditions can be more common at the time of menopause, not just because of menopause. Snoring, for example, can be an indicator of obstructive sleep apnea. Nocturnal panic attacks can be mistaken for sleep apnea. Restless legs, and indeed arms may seem like insomnia. Whatever the underlying issue, it’s important to get the right diagnosis and the right treatment.
It’s also important to be aware that you can have more than one condition at the same time. So, getting the right diagnosis or diagnoses is very important to ensure treatments can be individualised. There’s no one size fits all.
Knowing where to start with evidence-based treatments and therapies to improve sleep can be a minefield, but with an accurate diagnosis and a knowledgeable and suitably accredited clinical practitioner, it’s possible to improve sleep patterns.
When it comes to getting a good night’s sleep, preparation is key, and a good wind down routine can really help quieten the mind and prepare the body for the rest it needs. Whether that’s turning down the lights, switching off devices, or simply letting go of the day, your body will thank you for a calm countdown to bed.
Sleep disruption in midlife is very common. There are many reasons it can happen and many tools and techniques that can help. It’s important to seek help if you are experiencing problems and get the right diagnosis and treatment plan. Don’t struggle through sleep deprived days.
About Dr. Shelby Harris
Dr. Shelby Harris is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in White Plains, New York who specialises in Behavioural Sleep Medicine (BSM), working to improve the sleep of everyone from babies through older adults using evidence-based methods. She is also a specialist in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for anxiety and depression in adolescents and adults. Her unique expertise is frequently sought out by colleagues and well-respected medical institutions world-wide. She is one of the very few board-certified BSM specialists, with less than 160 clinicians worldwide who hold this distinction. She is frequently sought to train and supervise students in CBT for Insomnia, the gold-standard treatment for the disorder. Dr. Harris was formerly the director of the Behavioural Sleep Medicine Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, and has helped countless people - of all ages - improve their sleep, anxiety, and mood.
Find Dr Shelby Harris on Instagram @sleepdocshelby
About Dr. Zoe Schaedel
Dr Zoe Schaedel is an experienced GP Partner and clinical leader with expertise in mental health and sleep difficulties. Through working in general practice and during her time as Managing Director for a mental health service in Brighton and Hove, Dr. Schaedel has developed an in-depth understanding of the damaging effect that poor sleep can have on physical and psychological health. Dr Schaedel has trained alongside some of the UK's foremost sleep clinicians and is a member of the British Sleep Society. She is also experienced in working with women in the menopausal transition and has been awarded the Advanced Certificate in Menopause Care by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health. Dr. Schaedel has undertaken additional training in CBT for Insomnia, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and CBT for menopausal symptoms. She is a member of the British Menopause Society. Her advice has been published in many educational and commercial settings.
Find Dr Zoe Schaedel on Instagram @zoemenopausedr
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