In the stages of the menopause and having trouble getting your beauty sleep? You’re not alone. Menopause expert and Food Scientist Susie Debice explains why you might be struggling with your shut eye, and suggests some things we can do to help boost our energy levels.
Finding those forty winks a little harder to come by? It’s not uncommon to experience poor sleep occasionally, but the menopause can exacerbate and amplify this problem.
The knock-on effects of insufficient sleep are profound and multifaceted, spilling over into all other aspects of our lives. As well as low energy and fatigue, a consistent lack of beauty sleep can…
- Make us feel grumpy or irritable, even depressed or anxious
- Harm our memory and concentration levels
- Depress our immune systems
- Increase our blood pressure and risk of heart disease and diabetes
- Harm our balance, coordination and make us more prone to accidents
- Lead to weight gain
- Even lower our sex drive!
Simply put — a consistent lack of quality sleep is bad news, in so many ways.
Menopause tiredness and fatigue — the link
Does the menopause make you feel tired? The answer — an emphatic yes. Hormonal fluctuations can create symptoms that wreak havoc on our sleep schedules, as well as posing a challenge for daily energy and metabolism.
The menopause and fatigue are two intimately linked things. Here’s why, with some top tips for menopausal women to safeguard their snoozes.
1. Low oestrogen, low energy
As with almost every single emotional, physical and psychological symptom of the menopause, hormonal fluctuations are at the heart of our fatigue woes.
There are many hormones in your body that support your cellular energy — oestrogen, progesterone and thyroid and adrenal hormones. The menopause causes them to go into flux.
In particular, when our oestrogen levels are at rock bottom, it’s common to feel fatigued or drained. These powerful hormone fluctuations can drastically affect our get-up-and-go energy levels — so don’t be hard on yourself.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, a daily dose of exercise goes a long way to releasing the feel-good hormones and can help us to sleep at night. Gentle exercise — walking, swimming and cycling — might be more suitable if you’re feeling particularly fatigued.
2. Insomnia during menopause
Hormonal changes can also play havoc with our sleep patterns, leading to insomnia. According to research, around 50 percent of women in the menopause transition experience insomnia symptoms.
Night sweats can mean you wake frequently throughout the night. These are the same as daytime hot flushes; it’s just that while you’re asleep, it’s harder to take quick action to stop the flush escalating, which is why you tend to wake up dripping! Other menopause symptoms, including restless leg syndrome, can add to sleeping difficulties.
There’s often no particular pattern to night sweats, so it’s common to go through phases when they seem more frequent, followed by a run of nights where you sleep all the way through.
To diminish their effects (and the resulting menopause low energy levels), try to ensure your bedroom is cooler. Bedding made from 100 percent natural fibres and wearing cotton nightwear can help. Keeping a towel, a fan or a cool flannel — and possibly a change of pyjamas by your bedside — can be helpful.
Some women find that supplementing with phyto-oestrogens to be helpful for hormone balance, which may help relieve night sweats as well as daytime hot flushes.
Eventually, your hormones will start to settle down and the resulting night sweats will begin to fade away, leaving you the chance to catch up on your beauty sleep. Bliss!
3. Serotonin, tryptophan and melatonin
Menopause and fatigue can also be explained by looking at a number of other relevant hormones, proteins and neurotransmitters.
Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, is responsible for generating happy, relaxed feelings, a calm mindset and a general sense of wellbeing. It’s created in the body from a protein called tryptophan.
It also plays an important role in menopause tiredness. Falling oestrogen levels, in some women, make it harder for receptor sites in the brain to detect serotonin, contributing to lower levels of the neurotransmitter.
The body uses serotonin to make a sleep hormone called melatonin. Melatonin is released at the end of the day, helping settle the mind and relax the body so that drifting off to sleep is a breeze.
Topping up on mood foods containing tryptophan, therefore, can help to boost our serotonin levels and increase production of this all-important sleep hormone. Tryptophan-rich foods for sleep include…
- Fruits, particularly avocados, apples and bananas
- Poultry, including turkey and chicken
- Brown rice
- Nuts and seeds
- Fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines and cod
- Dairy produces like milk, eggs and cottage cheese
- Supplementing with 5-HTP could be of benefit, too.
4. Bladder problems
Oestrogen and progesterone both play a key role in the tone of the smooth muscles that line the bladder and urethra.
As you go through the stages of the menopause, fluctuations in these hormones can impact on bladder function — which is why some menopausal women experience bouts of interstitial cystitis or increased frequency for urination.
Clearly, waking throughout the night for trips to the loo can have a big impact on your sleep and can contribute towards menopause tiredness. When it becomes a daily night-time occurence, those nights of interrupted shut-eye soon start to add up.
Consider incorporating some pelvic floor exercises. They’re really helpful for keeping that smooth muscle nice and toned, meaning you’ll need to visit the toilet a bit less frequently — in turn, helping to bolster your menopausal low energy levels!
5. B-vitamin deficiency and how we start the day
Interestingly, a shortage of crucial B-vitamins has been implicated in menopause tiredness.
Studies have shown that vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6 and B12 all help to support energy-yielding metabolism, fighting tiredness and fatigue. B vitamins also contribute to normal psychological function, a plus point for mood and energy levels.
Those foods rich in B-vitamins which can assist in combating menopause tiredness include wholegrains, pulses and lentils. So, starting your day with an oat-based cereal or muesli is highly recommended.
It’s also possible to supplement your diet with B-vitamins during the menopause; Cleanmarine Menomin, for example, contains all-in-one nutritional support, including an important daily supply of vitamins B1, B2, B6 and B12.
Without uninterrupted, restorative sleep, it becomes harder and harder to start the day feeling refreshed, positive and energised. We’re all familiar with wanting to endlessly hit that snooze button.
Attempting to override that morning fatigue with strong cups of coffee could just set you up for a stimulant, mood and energy rollercoaster for the rest of the day.
Instead, start thinking about rehydrating with a large glass of water or large herbal tea. Keeping hydrated is important for brain function and mental focus, so it’s a good morning habit to stick to.
After the menopause, our hormone levels slowly settle and the symptoms we associate with the transition diminish. However, even at this point, insomnia and tiredness can sometimes persist.
Studies have revealed that vasomotor symptoms — hot flushes — can continue to disrupt our sleep for several years even after the menopause, up to over 10 years in some women.
As well as being caused by a lack of quality shut-eye, post-menopause fatigue can be explained by persistent lower levels of oestrogen, progesterone and other hormone imbalances.
Menopause tiredness — in a nutshell
Feeling tired and fatigued during the menopause is sometimes a case of managing symptoms until our hormone levels settle down, particularly if it’s the hot flushes to blame.
However, it’s also possible to make some key dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Depending on what’s causing you to lose your beauty sleep, consider incorporating pelvic floor exercises and ensure a plentiful supply of B-vitamins. Regular exercise, as well as staying hydrated, can help to elevate our energy levels.
Working some tryptophan-rich foods into your diet can get those sleep hormones flowing, too!