Sleep patterns often change during menopause. Many women find it difficult to fall asleep when they first go to bed, tossing and turning for several hours before finally drifting off. The sleep that results may also be restless, interrupted by periods of waking. Some women initially fall asleep with little difficulty but can’t go back to sleep after waking up in the middle of the night. Hot flashes are often the culprit, rousing you partially or fully from sleep. When this happens, it interrupts your deep, or REM, sleep.
REM stands for rapid eye movement and identifies the stage of sleep during which dreaming occurs.
Although REM sleep is the shorter of the two kinds of sleep (the other is NREM, or nonrapid eye movement), it’s the one that appears to be more important for restfulness. During REM sleep, your brain’s electrical activity dramatically increases, and your eyes flutter and move rapidly behind your closed eyelids. REM sleep occupies a progressively longer share of each 90-minute sleep cycle, beginning with about 10 minutes of the first cycle after you fall asleep and concluding with nearly an hour of the last cycle before you wake up. Researchers don’t fully understand the body’s need for sleep, but dreaming seems to be a critical element of your brain’s ability to rest and recharge itself. When REM sleep — dream sleep — is interrupted, you feel tired and sluggish the next day. The later into the sleep cycle interruptions take place, the more disruptive they are.
Over-the-counter sleeping products may do you more harm than good, leaving you feeling “hung over” and unrested the next day. If getting a good night’s sleep has become mission impossible, see your doctor to check out the possible causes and discuss potential solutions.
Hot flashes can interrupt sleep without fully awakening you. By morning, you don’t remember that you suddenly kicked the covers off and thrashed around (although your partner might). But your body does, and you feel the effects. There are other reasons for why you might not be sleeping well during this transitional period in your life, too. Stress and tension can keep your mind active and awake when your body wants to be asleep. Try these tips to improve your odds for a more restful night’s sleep:
- Get moderately intense physical exercise every day (but not right before you go to bed). This helps keep your cells and tissues operating at peak performance.
- Use stress-relief techniques such as focused imagery, meditation, or biofeedback to help you relax and get rid of the day’s worries and problems.
- Reduce the amount of caffeine, fat, and sugar in your daily diet. Don’t eat within an hour of going to bed.
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, regardless of whether you feel wide awake or sleepy.
- Shut the curtains or blinds and the door to keep your bedroom dark while you’re sleeping, and to close out distracting sounds.