Menopause can be an unpleasant season of life for many women as their bodies transition into a phase in which menstruation ceases. Although the thought of never having to deal with periods again may sound enticing to many younger women, for others the secondary problems that accompany menopause such as hot flashes, mood swings, and insomnia, can have both physical and mental/emotional ramifications.
Another issue that compounds menopausal insomnia is that most women still lead very busy lives at the onset of menopause.
Once upon a time, it may have signaled the advent of old age, but today 60 is the new 40 and women will not - and should not- allow insomnia and other effects of menopause to rob them of their busy and fulfilling lives.
Technically, the word menopause means “the pause of menstruation.” Medically, menopause has not occurred until a woman has ceased menstruation - or stopped getting her period altogether- for one year.
Every female is born with a certain number of eggs stored in the ovaries which can later be fertilized after maturation. Ovaries also produce the hormones estrogen and progesterone that control menstruation and ovulation.
Ovaries release eggs each month (ovulation) and when they are not fertilized and implanted in the uterus (which would result in a pregnancy), the uterus sheds its lining (menstruation).
However, with the onset of menopause, ovaries no longer release eggs, which means that menstruation also stops.
Typically, menopause occurs naturally between the ages of 40 and 60, but it is a normal part of aging that can occur at different ages for different women.
As we mentioned above, menopause is caused by the cessation of menstruation brought on by the cessation of ovulation. Natural menopause comes about as a woman ages and is no longer of child-bearing age. The onset of natural menopause usually occurs between 40 and 60, although not always.
Only around 5% of women enter premature menopause naturally. Most women who enter menopause early on their own have a family history of early menopause, as well.
Usually, premature menopause is brought on by external influences such as damage to the ovaries or having a hysterectomy in which the uterus, ovaries, or both are removed for health reasons.
Ovaries may be damaged by being exposed to chemotherapy or radiation, smoking, certain autoimmune diseases, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Sometimes ovaries are removed during a hysterectomy due to health concerns such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis, or a host of other complications.
Women who suspect that they may be approaching menopause should speak to a doctor who may be able to do a blood test to determine estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) levels.
During menopause, these levels will begin to decrease and a gynecologist can help determine if levels are low enough to need hormone replacement.
Women who go through premature menopause may be at a greater risk for certain health problems like osteoporosis and heart disease.
Hormones like estrogen secreted by the ovaries serve important functions in the body. Women who enter menopause earlier end up having to live longer without these natural hormones and it can have negative consequences.
Depression, anxiety, and insomnia also may be more severe in women who enter menopause earlier.
It is important that women speak with their doctor immediately if these side effects begin to affect the way they are able to lead their lives.
During perimenopause, the body’s estrogen levels may rise and fall randomly. It is common to experience a change in periods during this time such as shorter periods, longer periods, or irregular periods.
As estrogen levels drop, ovulation will change. It is normal to experience a change in flow or the length of periods during perimenopause due to this change in ovulation cycles and hormone levels.
Low levels of estrogen also may make the body more susceptible to vaginal and urinary tract infections and it is not uncommon for women to experience vaginal and bladder problems during perimenopause.
As long as a woman is experiencing menstruation, even if it is not her typical cycle, she is releasing eggs that can be fertilized.
It is usually a little harder for a woman to conceive during perimenopause due to fluctuating hormone levels and irregular ovulation.
Once a woman has gone one year (12 consecutive months) without a period, she has successfully completed menopause and is considered to be in a phase known as postmenopause.
For women who have not entered premature menopause, the post-menopausal stage usually begins in the 40’s or 50’s. For post-menopausal women, their ovaries are not releasing eggs anymore, therefore they are not able to conceive.
This stage usually brings a welcome end to many of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes or mood swings. However, the lack of hormones like estrogen and progesterone often usher other symptoms.
Many women may assert that hot flashes are the most unfavorable symptoms of peri- and postmenopause.
Even after menopause is over, it is not uncommon to have an increased core body temperature and metabolism which, in turn, results in excessive sweating and sleep disturbance.
Insomnia and sleep disorders are another unpleasant side effect of postmenopause.
Unfortunately, between 35 and 60% of postmenopausal women experience report experiencing insomnia or other sleep disturbance on a regular basis.
Estrogen is involved in the secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and the less estrogen the body makes, sometimes means the less melatonin the body makes.
This may explain the increase in sleep disturbance with age. The older a woman gets, the less estrogen she has and, therefore, sometimes less sleep.
Estrogen is not only linked to sleep quality, but to depression as well. Insomnia is a major factor in many depression diagnoses.
We have discussed hot flashes quite a bit so far because they are one of the most common and most unpleasant symptoms associated with menopause.
During menopause, as the ovaries’ production of estrogen slows down, the brain can get confused.
Remember, the body has been used to having normal estrogen levels for decades.
When it suddenly decreases, it throws the body (and brain) off balance. The brain begins to attempt to control body temperature by dilating blood vessels and signaling sweat glands to work over-time.
During the day, we tend to call them hot flashes. When they occur at night, it tends to result in more sweating and it referred to as night sweats.
Sometimes depression is a symptom of another health issue.
When depression is caused by an underlying health event, it is an adjustment reaction.
Depression during menopause (or postmenopause) might be a side effect of the body adjusting to lower levels of hormones than usual.
Still, it is important to discuss any new or worsening symptoms of depression or anxiety with a healthcare professional.
Low estrogen and melatonin levels can also lead to an increase in appetite and weight gain.
Lack of sleep and imbalanced hormones may be a causing factor of obesity in postmenopausal women.
Women (and men) who are extremely overweight are more susceptible to a host of other secondary health problems including high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, gallstones, sleep apnea, stroke, and heart disease.
Menopause is a natural right of passage but that does not mean that in the 21st century women are expected to be miserable while they lead busy and productive lives. There are many different treatments available, including natural and medical methods.
Hormone Replacement Therapy may be one of the most common treatments around. Basically what HRT does is refill the body’s estrogen tank.
Hormones may be effective in reducing hot flashes which may also benefit sleep patterns.
HRT should only be prescribed by a doctor and it is important that all medical and known family history be discussed with a physician.
A host of factors may determine the type, dose, and length of time that HRT is prescribed.
Antidepressants may also be prescribed if menopausal depression has become so severe that it is hindering a woman’s quality of life.
Again, it is important to disclose all known medical and family history to the doctor prescribing an antidepressant so that the appropriate medication and dosage can be assigned.
Osteoporosis is sometimes a secondary health problem stemming from menopause.
Loss of bone in postmenopausal women sometimes leads to osteoporosis and may be treated with medication or calcium supplements.
Vitamins and supplements may be a good way to naturally manage the symptoms of menopause.
Vitamin B12 is often associated with treating fatigue, depression, and promoting good bone health.
Vitamin B6 can help with low energy levels and depression.
While sometimes medication and HRT can be beneficial, many women seek out natural ways to manage their symptoms of menopause in addition to, or in place of, medical intervention. Here are some of our favorite natural treatments for menopause:
Many women experience weight gain due to increased fatigue and appetite during the menopausal period.
Exercise can be a great way to naturally regulate weight as well as give the body more energy.
Because energy sends surges of endorphins to the brain, it can naturally help treat depression. Increasing the heart rate with vigorous exercise can also improve the quality of sleep and reduce periods of insomnia.
It’s not just the healthy body that can fight depression, a calm, reflective and rational state of mind can also help. To encourage this positive state, meditation is seen as a useful complementary method of treating depression.
Menopause causes major changes in a woman’s body, often including vitamin deficiencies.
A healthy diet is another great way for women to treat menopausal symptoms naturally.
Diets rich in Vitamins D and K are essential to good bone health.
Foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese are high in these bone-healthy foods. Omega 3 fatty acids in fish and some seeds like flax, chia, and hemp are great sources of omega-3.
Be sure to incorporate whole grains like brown rice, whole grain bread, quinoa, and barley into a healthy menopause diet as well.
This is what causes most menopausal women to experience hot flashes - extreme and sudden body temperature increases - and night sweats.
For many women, regulating body temperature and managing hot flashes is a priority during menopause.
Naturally, avoiding uncomfortably warm temperatures and wearing breathable clothing is a good way to start.
Also, try sleeping with the thermostat turned down to a lower temp at bedtime.
Avoiding hot beverages such as coffee and tea, as well as spicy foods may help lessen hot flash episodes.
Sleep disturbances such as insomnia are another common complaint among menopausal women.
Much of this is physiological and can be helped with medication, diet, exercise, or supplements.
Some insomnia may be addressed with changes in routine that can help reset the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
Try brewing a cup of chamomile tea or using lavender lotion.
Use the same blanket and avoid watching TV, staring at a computer screen, or scrolling through a phone.
Maybe listening to soothing nature sounds or reading for twenty minutes would be something good to incorporate into a bedtime routine.
After a while, the body will recognize these steps as preludes to sleep and start winding down on its own.
Sleeping in a cooler temperature can help us sleep better sometimes, too.
Try a thermostat setting between 60 and 67 degrees or sleeping with a fan to avoid getting too hot and help minimize night sweats.
Weighted blankets can be a great way to treat some unpleasant symptoms of menopause including insomnia and anxiety.
Composed of quilted pockets containing fillings like glass beads, poly pellets, or other tiny weighted items, weighted blankets are typically between 15 to 30 pounds and evenly distribute firm, gentle pressure over the body.
Our bodies are covered with sensory receptors that are linked to the nervous system. Often, the nervous system becomes overwhelmed because of stress, fatigue, or other physiological factors.
Weighted blankets are effective in the same way that a fussy baby may be calmed when it is swaddled or the way a distressed person may appreciate a hug.
The body instinctively responds to DTP and it can calm the nervous system, scare away the stress hormone cortisol, as well as promote the production of the happy hormone, serotonin.
This sequence of events can prompt the body to produce the sleep hormone, melatonin: the menopausal insomniac’s best friend!
To be fair, the thought of lying underneath 15 pounds of blanket may not be appealing to a woman suffering from hot flashes or night sweats on a regular basis.
There are cooling weighted blankets on the market that use breathable fabric and glass beads, which are not supposed to hold heat.
Also, turning down the thermostat a few extra degrees may offset this extra layer.
Another technique to try may be using the weighted blanket to help transition the body into sleep time rather than using it all night.
Try wrapping up for 20 to 30 minutes in a weighted blanket that is at least 10% to 15% of the body’s weight to apply the right amount of pressure on the skin’s DTP receptors.
This may settle the body enough to lower stress hormones and trigger the production of melatonin. Weighted blankets may be a great addition to the bedtime routines we mentioned above.
Menopause is a natural part of life for all women as they enter their fortieth or fiftieth decade.
For many women, the absence of a period is the cause of celebration.
However, menopause is also often accompanied by a host of unpleasant symptoms ranging from mood swings and hot flashes to weight gain and insomnia.
All of these negative side effects can negatively affect a woman’s quality of life and need to be addressed.
Fortunately, there are a host of treatments available for menopausal and postmenopausal women, including a variety of natural remedies that can make this season of life more bearable.
Speak to a doctor and try implementing a few of our natural tips like participating in vigorous exercise, eating a healthy diet, or using a retails or DIY weighted blanket at bedtime to get comfortable and enjoy mid-life to its fullest.