'Sleepless in America' Highlights Importance of Sleep

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Sleep. It seems to be one of the things that we seem to be missing during menopause. In fact, many women complain about disruptions to their sleep during the menopausal transitions. These disruptions include hot flashes/night sweats, insomnia, mood disorders and sleep apnea, as well as contributing factors such as depression and anxiety.

    If that’s not enough to keep you up at night, your health also may be at stake if you're not getting enough quality sleep. A recent National Geographic program called Sleepless in America offered the following information:

    • Lack of sleep can contribute to weight gain and also cause problems with blood sugar regulation in people who have diabetes.
    • Sleep fragmentation interferes with the efficiency of the body’s immune system.
    • Some researchers are finding that lack of sleep and shorter levels of sleep increase the risk for cancer. In fact, one study found that cancer grew twice as fast in mice that had their sleep disrupted.
    • It’s really hard to catch up on sleep. Therefore, researchers encourage you try to get the same amount of sleep each night.
    • Sleep serves a biological function. For instance, some researchers have found that the brain uses sleep to clear out toxic proteins such as A beta, which has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

    Several key brain areas are responsible for helping us sleep. These areas include:

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    • The pineal gland, which produces melatonin that helps the body prepare for sleep. Melatonin production begins when the body senses that it’s becoming dark.
    • The hypothalamus, which includes neurons that govern circadian rhythms and regulate chemicals that help us go to sleep. This part of the brain also is involved in the awakening process.
    • The thalamus, which blocks input from the senses so that the brain can focus on processing information from the day through dreams.
    • The cerebral cortex, which is activated during REM sleep. This area of the brain is responsible for dreaming.
    • The hippocampus, which replays memories to be stored during the REM sleep stage.
    • The pons, which takes part in the activation of dreams as well as the waking-up process. This part of the brain blocks signals to the spinal cord when you’re in REM sleep stage so that you don’t physically act out your dreams.
    • The retina in your eyes contains specific cells that alert the brain when they sense light in the morning, thus helping you to awaken.

    So what can you do to get to better sleep? Here are some recommendations:

    • Avoid alcohol since it can disturb your sleep.
    • Try drinking a glass of milk to relax prior to bedtime. Milk contains tryptophan, which in turn is used to make serotonin, a chemical in the brain that controls sleep patterns. However, don’t take over-the-counter supplements of tryptophan, which can cause a rare condition that can cause painful muscle inflammation.
    • Avoid naps during the day.
    • Try meditation to calm your brain and your body.
    • Exercise daily, but avoid vigorous exercise three hours prior to bedtime.
    • Avoid foods and beverages that can trigger hot flashes. These triggers can be highly individualized. Some women get hot flashes after eating spicy foods. That never happened to me. Instead, hot flashes that I had were triggered by beer and vodka (but not wine) and sometimes by fried food.
    • Avoid caffeine and nicotine.
    • Try soothing smells such as lavender in your bedroom.
    • Maintain a cool temperature in your bedroom.
    • Take a warm bath or shower prior to going to bed.
    • Do not watch television, eat or read in bed.
    • Wear loose clothing to bed if you have hot flashes.
    • Avoid sleeping pills.
    • Follow the same bedtime routine each night.
    • Talk to your doctor about hormone replacement therapy to deal with menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. However, you should only take the lowest dosage that is effective for the shortest period of time to control your symptoms.


  • Know that you’re not alone if you’re having trouble sleeping during the menopausal transition. Some of these lifestyle changes may help you get back to having sound sleep. If they don’t work, be sure to talk to your doctor.

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    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Cleveland Clinic. (2013). Menopause and sleep concerns.

    National Geographic. (ND). The brain in slumber.

    National Geographic. (2014). Sleepless in America.

    National Sleep Foundation. (ND). Menopause and sleep.

Published On: December 05, 2014