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Five things you should know about menopause and sleep

A good night’s sleep isn’t always easy during menopause, but a University of Minnesota Health expert has some advice for women who are seeking better, more restful sleep.
Family Medicine Physician Carolyn Torkelson, MD, who specializes in women’s integrative health, shares a few tips for healthy sleep during menopause.

Night sweats, hot flashes, insomnia.

The hormonal changes women undergo during menopause can lead to plenty of sleep disruptions. But that doesn’t mean good, restful sleep is out of reach for women going through this transition. We asked Family Medicine Physician Carolyn Torkelson, MD, who specializes in women’s integrative health, to share a few tips for healthy sleep during menopause.

Practice good sleep hygiene. 

Sleep hygiene involves making lifestyle choices and establishing practices that support healthy sleep. It’s important for women going through menopause to practice the habits of good sleep hygiene. Healthy habits include:

  • Going to bed at the same time waking up at the same time each morning
  • Avoidance of computer or TV usage for at least an hour before sleep
  • Pursuing relaxing activities before bed, such as a massage, listening to quiet music or taking a bath
  • Maintaining a quiet, comfortable—and dark—bedroom without electric devices

Hormone therapy, medication or botanicals may also alleviate sleep disruptions.

They’re not for everyone, but some women consider taking hormone therapy to alleviate their night sweats.

“This is a discussion women should have with their care providers. Estrogen can eliminate night sweats and different doses and routes of administration can be prescribed in accordance with a patient’s needs,” Torkelson said.

Other medications, including gabapentin and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), have been shown to decrease the number of hot flashes and night sweats women experience. Botanicals—such as black cohosh—can be beneficial to some women to reduce perimenopause-related sleep disruptions as well.

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Be mindful of what you eat and drink during evening hours, particularly alcohol.

What we put in our body affects how we feel, and that’s especially true for menopausal women. First, try to avoid alcohol. Alcohol can be a trigger for hot flashes and can subsequently affect sleep, said Torkelson, who recommends avoiding alcohol in the evening hours. You should also consider ditching caffeine and late-night snacks. Caffeine is a stimulant and can make falling asleep difficult, while late-night snacks— especially those high in carbohydrates—can disrupt sleep patterns.

Exercise early in the day is highly beneficial.

Regular exercise is critical for a good night sleep, but women should avoid exercising late in the day. That’s because exercise releases endorphins that are stimulating for the body. Torkelson recommends that menopausal women perform 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise to maintain a healthy weight, muscle strength and bone health. Exercise routines should also include stretching and aerobic activities, Torkelson said.

Restore Your Body and Mind

Menopausal women are often in a transitional period in their lives, and must juggle demands from children, aging parents and work. Practices that calm the body and mind are essential so that sleep can be a time of refuge and relaxation and is not filled with anxious thoughts. Some useful steps include:

  • Practicing relaxation methods such as progressive muscle relaxation or mindfulness sleep induction techniques
  • Consumption of supplements, including melatonin, or botanicals, including valerian root and passion flower, to help you get to sleep and stay asleep
  • Application of lavender oil or use of aromatherapy to help with relaxation and sleep induction
  • Acupuncture to balance and restore health and reduce night sweats