Ageing with attitude: Sleeplessness and the menopausal woman

Getting a poor night’s sleep can have a huge effect on our health, while the menopause itself can already have us feeling drained, writes Margaret Jennings.
Ageing with attitude: Sleeplessness and the menopausal woman

IT seems totally unfair, but just when you need it most to help you recharge — or to simply keep you going when your body is changing — sleep not only evades you, but becomes an uncomfortable battle of the night.

While women may feel totally alone as they approach each day bleary-eyed, they are in fact among an army going though the menopausal transition who suffer from disrupted sleep or downright insomnia.

In the past 12 months, more than 7,000 women contacted Eileen Durward, the menopause expert at A Vogel, the natural medicine company, with menopausal queries; from the 50 individual symptoms listed in her database via phone, email, and live chat, sleeplessness was number 10.

And in case you are wondering, the other nine were: Hot flushes; joint pain; anxiety; HRT usage; weight gain; breast discomfort; heavy periods; itchy skin; and vaginal issues.

But lack of sleep can also influence many of those symptoms, she points out: “Getting a poor night’s sleep can have a huge effect on all different areas of our health.

"It can affect our immune system, making us more prone to colds, infections, and allergies, and it can affect our emotional wellbeing.

"If we don’t sleep well, we’re going to be cranky and miserable. We can even feel depressed during the whole of the next day.”

The menopause itself can really drain you of energy so if you then put a poor night’s sleep on top of that, it can very often feel that you’re running on empty for weeks, if not months, she says.

“Sleep disruption can also affect our perception of pain. It can make pain feel worse. This is quite a problem, especially if you get joint aches and pains as one of your menopause symptoms.”

Why do some women suffer more than others?

“So many factors can affect our sleeping pattern and by the time we get to the menopause we can have acquired many bad night-time habits such as eating heavy meals too late, drinking coffee or alcohol in the evening, snacking on high salt or sugar foods, watching TV in bed, going to bed too late, or not drinking enough water — to name just a few,” she says.

“For many women, these habits may have only caused slight problems but once the hormonal changes occur, there is a huge amount of extra pressure being put on the nervous system and this is what can then — seemingly suddenly, but not really — cause sleep havoc.”

Just becoming aware that we have these habits, which we tend not to notice, can make quite a difference, she says.

The menopause’s hormonal changes weaken the nervous system.

“Because of this you may then not bounce back totally after the menopause and by then poor sleep has become ingrained.

"The great thing, though, is that no matter how old you are, or how far through the menopause you have gone, making little changes to diet, lifestyle and stress management can still have a huge impact on sleep, and I know this because women report back the positive results to me.

"So it is never too late to start.”

On her website My Second Spring, Aisling Grimley has insomnia listed number four out of 14 menopausal symptoms.

She says anxiety, worry, and hot flushes can be some of the main culprits that have us tossing and turning or pacing the floorboards.

“Women often say that they can put up with night sweats, but they can’t cope with the lack of sleep. This continuous lack of sleep can cause us to become depressed,” says Grimley.

According to the US-based National Sleep Foundation, the most notable complaints include hot flashes, mood disorders, insomnia, and sleep-disordered breathing.

It notes that depression and anxiety often feature as a result.

The NSF says women report the most sleep problems from peri-menopause to post-menopause with as many as 61% of post-menopausal women complaining of insomnia.

Joyce Walsleben, head of behavioural sleep medicine at New York University Centre, says it helps to control your sleep environment: She suggests you:

  • Make your room dark, quiet and safe;
  • Keep your room as cool as you can;
  • Keep a cloth in a bucket of ice near your bed so you can cool yourself quickly.

Gregg D Jacobs, an insomnia expert and author of Say Goodnight To Insomnia: A Drug-free Programme Developed at Harvard Medical School, advises you get out of bed within half an hour of the same time every day — even at weekends.

And here is the punchline: Regardless of how much sleep you have got.

Among the lifestyle suggestions offered by Grimley is to “calm down” before sleeping, including trying guided meditations.

“Overall though, it helps us to get to know ourselves better and consciously decide which solutions work best for us,” she adds.

Although you may be worn out from the sleepless cycle, taking stock of your lifestyle habits, might help not only during the menopause but for years after.


The Ultimate Facercise, Carole Maggio, €11.58

Worried about your sagging jawline? Then this book might sort you out, as author Carole Maggio suggests her ultimate facercise programme — working those facial muscles eight minutes, twice a day, will bring dramatic results.

She also claims that the exercises will “open up your entire eye area and reduce puffiness and bags, lift your eyebrows, define your cheeks, plump up the lips, turn the corners of your mouth up, smooth out lines, and firm your entire neck and jawline”.

There is also general lifestyle advice, such as on skincare, sun exposure, nutrition and sleep.

There are before and after pictures to encourage the reader to do the exercises, but of course, you have to commit to the programme to see if it works.

Stem-cell implant

At least 4500 hip replacements are carried out each year in Ireland, usually on adults aged over 65, and more likely on women than men.

The routine operation offers a better quality of life and lasts about 20 to 30 years.

In the US however, scientists have programmed stem cells to grow new cartilage on a 3-D template in the shape of a hip joint and for those who receive an artificial hip due to arthritis, they have genetically engineered the tissue used to release anti-inflammatory molecules which will help prevent the return of the auto-immune condition.

The research carried out by Washington University in conjunction with a biotech firm called Cytex, was reported in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The implant, created from the patient’s own stem cells lowers any risk of infection and could work on other joints also.

Ageing quote

Life isn’t about finding yourself; it’s about creating yourself

— George Bernard Shaw

Silver sufer

Why this 86-year-old zen archery teacher lives in the moment

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