Menopause: the dreaded changes every woman worries about as they age. It’s more than just a transition; it completely alters a woman’s day-to-day life.
Menopause comes with some nasty side effects, including hot flashes, mood swings, weight gain, and more. One serious side effect many women don’t take into account, though, is how menopause disturbs sleep.
Not only is difficulty sleeping simply annoying, but it can significantly impact your quality of life, especially during this trying transition. We’ll tell you more about menopause, its effects on sleep, and what this means for you in the following article.
What is Menopause?
Menopause is a series of transitions that signal the end of a woman’s fertility cycle. The transition usually begins between the ages of 45 to 55 and can last up to 14 years. There are different parts to menopause and each transitional phase has a different name.
Peri-menopause begins the series. In this first phase, the female hormones estrogen and progesterone are reduced. These chemical shifts will eventually lead to menstrual cycles being stopped.
You might experience a variety of symptoms during this phase. Your monthly cycles could become irregular, you might feel unusually warm, or you could find yourself feeling more irritable and moody.
This is normal. The perimenopausal stage is the longest and can be incredibly uncomfortable. Your body undergoes changes that affect how your body uses energy and burns fat. Most often, your weight will fluctuate.
Menopause is actually the point in time when a year has passed since menstrual cycles have ended. Finally, post-menopause is the time after the menopausal transition has been completed. Unfortunately, postmenopausal women are at an increased risk of heart disease and osteoporosis, so it’s recommended that you maintain a healthy diet high in calcium during this period.
There is a wide range of symptoms that are associated with the menopausal transition, including:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes and/or night sweats
- Mood swings
- Minor memory lapses
- Decreased bladder control
- Decreased sex drive or sexual discomfort
- Vaginal dryness
- Weight gain
- Stiff joints
- Sleep problems
It’s smart to remember that women experience various symptoms during menopause and the transition will be different for each individual. What you experience might not be the same as what your best friend or even your sister experiences, and that’s okay!
Okay… But What Does this Mean for Sleep?
There is actually a strong connection between menopause and sleep. In fact, it is during this transition that women complain the most about their sleep quality.
The National Sleep Foundation states that up to 61% of postmenopausal women have insomnia symptoms and feel unsatisfied with their sleep. Snoring and sleep apnea also become more prevalent or severe in postmenopausal women.
Additionally, research has shown that menopause can impact your sleep architecture, or the stages of sleep, and reduce sleep quality. Those hormones that are lowered during menopause? Those affect sleep, too. In postmenopausal women, melatonin, the hormone that helps you sleep, is dramatically reduced and can hinder sleeping. For women in the midst of menopause, cortisol levels can rise and cause unwanted early awakenings.
Menopause, Sleep Disordered Breathing, and Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS)
One thing many women overlook is the onset of sleep-disordered breathing during menopause. At least 35% of women entering menopause are at a higher risk of developing a serious form of sleep-disordered breathing called obstructive sleep apnea, or OSA.
Sleep-breathing disorders will usually begin with upper airway resistance syndrome (UARS) and in time, progress to sleep apnea if not treated. This precursor to sleep apnea was first identified about 20 years ago when some people were found to be working harder than normal to breathe at night.
Upper airway resistance syndrome comes with a few key symptoms:
- Excessive fatigue
- Frequent nighttime awakenings
- Decreased focus
- Anxiety disorder
Usually, UARS limits a person’s ability to inhale fully, whether it be due to bone structure, increased soft tissue, or obstructions. While UARS is not as severe as obstructive sleep apnea, recent research has found that many times this syndrome appears first, is left untreated, and in turn, promotes the onset of sleep apnea.
Is it Just Your Normal Snoring?
So you know that menopause is linked to a number of uncomfortable symptoms and conditions, including sleep-disordered breathing. But you might wonder how to tell if your snoring is a sign of something more.
Since weight gain is so prevalent during the menopausal transition, it’s not surprising that snoring develops as well. While infrequent snoring isn’t something to worry too much about, nightly snoring is a concern.
When snoring becomes intensely loud and a nightly occurrence, UARS is usually the cause. This type of snoring is linked to many issues, including high blood pressure, migraines, strokes, and even cancer.
What’s worse, this type of snoring is a major concern for women in the menopausal transition. If left alone, the progression of sleep-disordered breathing could take you by surprise.
Unfortunately, classic symptoms of sleep apnea in men will not manifest the same way in women. Instead of intense snoring and choking throughout the night, women experience restless legs, excessive fatigue, insomnia, morning headaches or sore throats, and mood swings.
The problem is that many women justify these symptoms as being caused by the menopause transition itself… But when these two conditions are put together, nighttime awakenings are common; you might wake up feeling either anxious or needing to use the restroom. While bladder and anxiety issues are not uncommon with menopause, stress hormones that are released during a sleep apnea episode create the feeling of panic attacks or needing to empty your bladder.
If you are going through menopause and are experiencing supposedly unexplained nighttime awakenings along with any of these symptoms, it’s crucial that you get it checked as soon as possible. Our sleep professionals at Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia are here to help you ensure a healthy night’s rest.
The Dangers of Sleep Apnea
Unfortunately, sleep apnea is linked to many different health conditions. Left untreated, sleep apnea could lead to diabetes, heart disease, depression, hypertension, obesity, and more.
A serious danger of sleep apnea is the effect it has on hormones. This journal discusses in depth the links between OSA and hormone imbalance. Untreated OSA affects bone metabolism, sex hormone homeostasis, the pituitary gland, and much more. Most of these effects are simply due to the severe lack of sleep that sleep-disordered breathing causes. Treating the disorder is the best solution to remedying these concerns.
Another issue sleep apnea has been linked to is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is when the valve at the bottom of the esophagus weakens, making acid more likely to flow upward and cause discomfort and heartburn. This journal describes the common link between GERD and sleep disorders.
Right now, it’s unclear whether or not one causes the other, but studies are showing a casual link between the two.
Get A Handle On Your Sleep During Menopause
If you’re nearing menopause or are in the midst of it, you likely have more worries than you could count. This stage is not just a transition for the body; you’re likely going through lifestyle transitions as well, whether it be dealing with aged parents or your kids going off to college.
Whatever the case, sleep should be the least of your concerns! Rather, sleep should be what helps you through this period of time, refreshing and energizing you. Not getting the proper rest you need will only negatively impact you during this transition.
At Advanced Sleep Centers of Virginia, we have a highly-trained team of sleep professionals who are dedicated to your health. We are here to help you and ensure your comfort during this time. We understand the stresses menopause puts on the mind and body and we want your sleep to be a positive portion of your life.
Your comfort and convenience is our first priority. That’s why we make the process of diagnosing and treating sleep disorders as simple as possible with at-home sleep tests, online scheduling, and a secure telemedicine portal where you can communicate with a sleep professional on your own time.
Don’t let menopause or bad sleep keep you from living your best life! Schedule an appointment with us online or call us today at (703) 689-2480 for a free consultation.