Insomnia is a common complaint around the time of menopause, and often after hysterectomy when surgical menopause occurs. Sometimes hot flashes are the culprit, waking you up with night sweats and making it difficult to go back to sleep. While hot flashes are certainly a bummer, true insomnia is a different beast – it involves difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. Insomnia is defined as chronic when it occurs for at least three nights a week for at least three months.
Insomnia and Menopause
So what’s the connection between insomnia and menopause? Like most of the side effects of menopause, insomnia can be caused by hormonal imbalances. Before and during menopause (we call this time perimenopause), your body’s estrogen and progesterone levels are changing.
You may also have a high level of cortisol, the stress hormone that works during a fight-or-flight response. High levels of cortisol can cause heart palpitations and racing thoughts, so no wonder it’s hard to get to sleep when this hormone is out of whack. And when you can finally get to sleep, cortisol can cause sleep to be lighter and less restorative.
Coping with Insomnia During Menopause
If you’re not getting enough sleep, your life can get totally disrupted. Some women with insomnia even develop depression that significantly impacts their ability to function. It is not uncommon for women to use unhealthy coping mechanisms like drinking alcohol to help them sleep.
Of course, there are pharmaceutical therapies that work great for insomnia like Ambien and Lunesta. Many women also find that antidepressant therapy like Prozac or Lexapro can be really helpful for managing insomnia during perimenopause. While these medications can be life-savers for women suffering from insomnia, some women prefer to make lifestyle changes to help them get some sleep.
Many women find that exercising daily, practicing mindfulness and meditation and cutting out caffeine can improve their symptoms. Making changes around the house can help, too. No screen time in the hours before bed, a warm bath each evening and use of calming essential oils like lavender have been known to set the stage for a restful night.
Weighted Blanket for Insomnia
In 2015, researchers at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology in Sweden set out to find a simple solution for insomnia. They decided to test the theory that a weighted blanket could provide comfort and relief for even clinical insomnia. They observed study participants as they slept under a weighted blanket and found that participants slept longer and moved less. Participants said it was easier to fall asleep under the blanket and that they felt more refreshed in the morning than usual.
Could a weighted blanket be the solution to help you get a better night’s sleep? Insomnia during menopause is a common condition, but it affects everyone differently. You may have to try a few different remedies and combinations of treatment before you find the right solution for you. Trying a weighted blanket has very little risk and you can shop for an affordable option on Amazon.com.
Ackerley, R., Badre, G., Olausson, H. (2015) Positive effects of a weighted blanket on insomnia. J Sleep Med Disord 2(3): 1022.
Healthline Networks. (2016). The role of cortisol in chronic insomnia in perimenopause. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-blogs/hold-that-pause/cortisol-chronic-insomnia
National Sleep Foundation. (2014). What is insomnia? Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/insomnia/content/what-is-insomnia
Varney, H., Kriebs, J. M., & Gegor, C. L. (2004). Varney’s midwifery. Jones & Bartlett Learning.