Disrupted Sleep During The Menopause
Disrupted sleep alongside the hot flushes has to be one of the worst aspects of any menopause journey. Most of us can handle life’s pressures and stresses after a goodnights sleep, but without regularly achieving the recommended 7-8hrs, remaining positive can be a real struggle. The menopause presents enough challenges, without the addition of sleep deprivation! Which in its self can cause a whole number of additional issues, including: Depression, moodiness, weaken immune system, slow cognitive functions and to top it off lack of sleep only goes and ages you too… No amount of night cream can supplement a good nights sleep!
Sleep deprivation has been and still remains a significant challenge for me. Not sleeping well came as of shock, as up until undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer six years ago I slept like the proverbial baby. Little kept me awake or disrupted my sleep (not even Teears’ snoring after a few beers!) No amount of stress or worry impeded my ability to fall soundly asleep, out like a light, 6-8 straight no problem!
But following chemo and the on-set of the menopause mother nature throw me this new challenge, new experience. And one I’m desperate to outwit. So, after 6yrs of witnessing the small hours I’m determined to find a solution and I invite fellow sufferers to join me. As over the next few weeks I’m going to investigate the reasons why sleep’s affected by the menopause and try out various solutions. Starting today….
Firstly, understanding how we sleep:
Each night we go through approximately 4-5 sleep cycles, including REM (rapid eye movement) and non REM sleep. Each cycle lasts for between 90 and 110 minutes. Each complete sleep cycle is one of the complete peaks and troughs in the graph.
- REM: Comes and goes throughout the night, making up about one-fifth of our sleep time. During REM, our brains are very active and are bodies are relaxed. This is the time we dream and are eyes move around quickly (I must be in REM a lot as dream heavily!)
- Non REM: Concludes the remainder of our sleep and occurs in four stages:
- Stages 1 & 2: Lighter stages of sleep, which we are easily woken from.
- Stages 3 & 4: Deeper levels of restorative ‘slow wave’ sleep, which tends to occur more during the first half of the night.
Interestingly the deep restorative sleep occurs in the first half of sleep, followed by the rest of the night alternating between REM and stage 2 sleep. As we go into deeper stages of sleep, our bodies naturally cool, our blood pressure drops and our bodies release hormones and transmitters that help to repair wear and tear from the day.
A couple of important points to be aware of when looking at the sleep cycle diagram:
- Sleep is not a simple ‘on-off’ mechanism like a light switch. It’s more helpful to think of sleep as a kind of ‘dimmer switch’; our brains goes from being fully alert (awake) into different stages of reduced awareness or consciousness. This can impact on our perception of sleep and how much we’ve had.
- As deep restorative sleep (stages 3 & 4) takes place at the beginning of the night. If you have not slept well the night before, your body automatically catches up the next night by entering these stages more quickly – we’re biologically programmed to do so. Even if sleep is broken as the night goes on you are likely to have ‘good enough’ restorative sleep.
So, why is sleep disrupted during the menopause?
The menopause sees the fall of two main hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, along with another hormone melatonin. These hormones affect sleep patterns in different ways:
- Oestrogen: Is important for managing the level of magnesium in the body. This is a chemical which allows your muscles to relax. And a lowered level of magnesium makes it more difficult to fall asleep. Falling levels of oestrogen are also the primary factor in causing night sweats, which can disrupt the sleep cycle. It is also thought that this can cause breathing irregularities during sleep resulting in a sleep problem similar to sleep apnoea.
- Progesterone: Is important for making you fall asleep and staying asleep. With lowered levels of progesterone you will find it more difficult to slip into deep sleep, so even if you do not wake during the night, the sleep is not as restful as it should be.
- Melatonin: Produced by the pineal gland, and a brain chemical that is associated with nightfall or darkness. Therefore important for inducing sleep can start to decline with age too. Melatonin also has an important role in over all health and possibly short-term memory.
- Serotonin: Converted in the body into melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep. Serotonin levels decrease during perimenopause and menopause
- HGH: Deep sleep is associated with release of human growth hormone (HGH) and as we grow older we produce less HGH
- Night Sweats: As per the above diagram sleep gets lighter as the night goes on (stages 1 & 2) and this is the time you are likely to notice and be woken by the night sweats.
Supplementing for loss of hormones:
Taking HRT out of the equation as that’s not an option for me and I know many chose not to take it. Therefore I’m looking at what natural supplements could aid sleep and first stop…
So, the reduction of oestrogen and progesterone is effecting the bodies ability to produce high enough levels of minerals such as magnesium. A mineral required for quality sleep, then maybe the first port of call should be increasing magnesium levels? But let’s take a closer look at magnesium.
It’s the job of magnesium to induce that sleepy states so that you can get to sleep. Although you may think you’re getting an adequate supply of magnesium in your diet, I’ve read that our digestive system actually has a tough time at taking full advantage of magnesium, absorbing only 50% of the magnesium we consume.
There are reports that magnesium supplementation increases vivid dreaming in some users. While this is often described as a side effect, it is really the result of the effect of magnesium on sleep architecture. Increased vivid dreaming is an indication that magnesium promotes “slow wave” stages 3 & 4 sleep.
Magnesium reduces nerve conduction in the muscles but also slows down neuronal activities in the brain. By reducing the electrical conduction between brain cells, magnesium reduces the ‘noise’ signals that cause anxiety and sleeplessness. Instead, it induces calm and promotes sedation.
Because even marginal magnesium deficiency can cause muscle spasms, irregular heart beat and hyperexcitability, it is quite easy for low magnesium levels to set off insomnia. I get cramp fairly regularly and now wondering if this could be a sign my magnesium levels are low!
Magnesium is also key nutrient for increasing progesterone levels. Which as stated above we know is important with helping to fall asleep.
Right, how do can we increase our magnesium levels:
There’s a number of ways to increase magnesium in-take:
Including magnesium rich foods in your diet such as: Leafy green vegetables, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, nuts, seeds, milk, halibut, oats, peanut, butter and unprocessed brans of grains such as wheat and rice – I’ll look up a recipe and add one next week.
Bathing in Epsom Salts:
Epsom Salts (Magnesium sulfate): When epsom salts are dissolved in warm water magnesium sulfate is reported to be absorbed through the skin. Cleansing the organs and replenishing the level of magnesium in the body. The magnesium also helps to produce serotonin, a mood-elevating chemical within the brain that creates a feeling of calm and relaxation. Causing a sedative effect. Experts believe that bathing with Epsom salt at least three times a week before bed will help create a relaxed feeling, improving sleep and concentration. Bathing in epsom salts not only helps with sleep but are excellent for skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, in-fact it’s reported to aid a number issues including joint pain. Even Gwyneth Paltrow, Victoria Beckham and Elle Macpherson bath in them!
Method: 1-2 cups of epsom salts in the bath, along with a few of drops of pure lavender essential oil. Soak for at least 20 minutes, take a book and try to stay in as long as possible.
Heathspan have a 3 month supply for £8.95. Here: Healthspan are an excellent source of information and advice for any supplements. And you can checkout their information on: Magnesium. Just a quick note: Please check with your GP if you’re already on medication before taking a supplement.
Right, I’m about to order my magnesium supplements, a bag of epsom salts and lavender oil and invite you to do the same. If you do join me on the magnesium trial please do share your experiences, either below or on our Face Book Group Forum.
Here’s my stockist:
And watch out for my next trial in a weeks time, where I’ll be looking at bed-time routines.