A study released last month says that menopausal women have trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep. Well, DUH. Any of us could have saved that researcher time and money!
The study involved 3,000 women aged 42 to 52 and some of them were studied for as long as seven years. The results of the study noted something kind of interesting: that the phenomena of waking up earlier than planned increased through late perimenopause (the earliest stage of menopause) but that this tendency to wake up early decreased during postmenopause, the last stage of menopause.
That means if you are waking up an hour or so before the alarm goes off day-after-day and you are just beginning the menopause journey, chances are good that this won't last forever.
The study, which seemed to have studied the obvious to many of us, also found that Caucasian women reported the most difficulty staying asleep, while Hispanic women reported they were less likely than any of the other ethnic groups studied (including Japanese, African American and Chinese) to wake several times during the night. I don't know why that is important, but the researchers seemed to think it was worthwhile information to have on hand.
The researches also say that sleep disturbances are in part a reflection of changing hormonal levels. Women who were on hormone therapy reported that they had less trouble falling asleep and reported that they woke up during the night less frequently. The study was quick to point out that this was not a consistent finding and so couldn't make a statement about whether hormone therapy helps alleviate sleep problems.
If you want to read the whole study, it appears in the July 1, 2008 issue of the medical journal SLEEP. Even though I haven't seen the entire article, I would venture a guess that just by reading it, you might fall asleep faster!
Lack of sleep is no laughing matter, however. Many people think that you need less sleep as you get older anyway, but that's not true. By some accounts, as many as one-third of Americans have trouble sleeping. When you think of how many of us are multi-tasking all the time, that's pretty scary. A lot of us drive when we're sleepy, use dangerous machinery (including kitchen tools!) when we're tired, or try to care for others (nurses, doctors, daycare providers) when we haven't had enough sleep. And of course we NEVER use the phone when we're doing something that deserves 100% of our attention, do we???
What's a person to do? There are strategies that all of us can use to get a better night's sleep and even those of us in menopause -- no, ESPECIALLY those of us in menopause -- should pay attention!
- Don't exercise right before bedtime. If you want to do some evening exercises, do them at least two hours before you want to sleep.
- Don't have an evening snack just before bedtime. Your body "wakes up" to digest food and that can keep you awake. If you want to eat before bed to even out your blood glucose levels, have something light like milk or cheese and crackers.
- If you are having trouble sleeping, tell your doctor. One recent study noted that 69% of older patients complained of sleep problems to their doctors but only 19% of the time did the doctor even write down the problem in the patient's chart! Make sure your doctor takes your complaint seriously. However, don't just assume that a "sleeping pill" is the right answer. Work with him or her on reasons and non-drug solutions first.
- Keep your sleeping room dark.
- Do not drink alcohol after dinner. Alcohol may shorten the time it takes to fall asleep, but you'll pay the price later in the night, because you'll be in a lighter sleep state, and it can aggravate restless leg syndrome, snoring, and sweating.
- Keep your bed reserved for sleep and sex. No crossword puzzles, no work, no TV.
- If you can't fall asleep, get up and do something relaxing-listen to music, take a warm bath, read-and then try to go back to bed.
Published On: August 08, 2008