Sleep and the MenopauseThe menopause is an important time for a woman. The physical and emotional symptoms mean that a woman may approach this time with trepidation. Many women pass through the menopause with equanimity. But for others the path is not so easy and insomnia can be an added problem…

The menopause is a natural change in a woman’s life. The production of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone decline during this time as they are no longer needed for reproduction. Periods become lighter and less frequent, until they stop completely. The menopause normally starts in the forties or later, and varies between women.

At least half of all women experience debilitating symptoms at this time including hot flushes, vaginal dryness, headaches and joint pain. Mood swings, depression and irritability accompanied by difficulty in sleeping mean that many women find it hard to cope. Aging and adjusting to changes in work and with the family, such as children leaving home, make this a stressful time that inevitably takes its toll on sleep.

Hot flushes and night sweats are particularly intrusive for sleep. Many women find that waking up hot and bathed in sweat is one of the worse effects. Vaginal dryness and a drop in libido may cause emotional friction making the bedroom a stressful place. With little sleep and feeling vulnerable and out of control it is not surprising that many women dread this time. In fact for a lot of women, the perceived view of the menopause as being a time of physical adjustment and emotional turmoil means that many are anxious and seeking help in anticipation of the challenge.


Although HRT has been, and still is, prescribed to help with these symptoms and protect against illness, many women now prefer to look for alternative support. Research has shown that HRT reduces flushes. It has also shown that placebos used in trials are also effective. Other ways such as adjusting diet, increasing exercise and breathing techniques are also helpful.

Deep abdominal breathing has been shown to reduce the frequency of hot flushes by up to a half. Yoga is an ideal way to increase flexibility and learn how to breathe and relax at this time. Weight bearing exercises such as walking and jogging are good ways to help combat osteoporosis and improve mood and flexibility. Exercising during daylight in the fresh air also elevates mood and improves sleep.

Nutritional Support

Isoflavones found in plants such as soy and red clovers are similar to oestrogen and have been shown to be effective in reducing hot flushes. Other sources of phyto-oestrogens are tofu, chickpeas and beans.

Blood Sugar and Sleep

Drops in the level of blood sugar also contribute to hot flushes and raise adrenaline levels preventing sleep. Low GI foods help keep blood sugar stable and reduce hot flushes.

Vitamins and Supplements

Although a balanced diet should provide all the necessary vitamins and minerals, research has shown that supplements of vitamin C, E and omega 3 and omega 6 essential fats may help at this time. Vitamin E may help with vaginal dryness. Supplements that are formulated to target menopausal symptoms are available from high street chemists. Nutritionists provide individual information and support on how these may help reduce symptoms and improve sleep.

Black cohosh and dong quai are increasingly used to support women suffering from hot flushes, depression and insomnia. St John’s wort helps improve symptoms of depression and palpitations and may be combined with black cohosh to help insomnia.

Natural Approach

Exercise, nutritional support and relaxation help many women through the menopause. Taking control and adopting strategies that will increase resilience and optimism helps put this time into perspective – a time of change, not an end.

Relaxation is very important at this time and if sleep is disrupted a nap can be an ideal way to try and catch up and regain energy. Anxiety is one of the main causes of insomnia and women can find it hard to relax as they adjust to the next ‘life stage’. Learning how to relax through yoga, meditation, massage and other therapies will help the mind adjust and relax the body. Taking time to assess your real needs – including sleep – will help you face the future with renewed energy.