Tips and tricks to improve your sleep during menopause
Hot flashes, night sweats, and restless legs? Oh my.
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Sleep is essential in your ability to function on a day-to-day basis. From memory to reaction time, it affects almost everything. And around middle age, a challenge that can shake up your nightly rest kicks in for about half of the population: menopause.
What are menopause and perimenopause?
During menopause, people with ovaries stop having periods, as the glands no longer produce estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone, in particular, improves your mood and sleep, and lower levels of the hormone can make this transition a challenge. Menopause technically falls one year after someone’s final period, though some symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats can last years.
In fact, perimenopause, sometimes called the “menopausal transition,” is an interim step that most people experience between 40 and 50. This stage can last as long as seven to 10 years, while postmenopause can last another one to three years. Symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats that begin during perimenopause can continue through this final stage, and the whole process can be disruptive to your sleep.
Here’s everything you need to know, including tips to getting a better night's rest when dealing with menopause symptoms.
Maintain a cool sleeping environment to combat hot flashes
As many as 85% of people who go through menopause experience hot flashes, making it one of the most common symptoms. This sudden feeling of heat, especially in the upper body, is sometimes followed by heavy sweating and cold chills.
The worst part? Hot flashes and subsequent night sweats are short episodes that can leave you feeling overbaked one moment and chilly the next. Unfortunately, temperature is key for getting a good night’s sleep. While it’s impossible to avoid a hot flash, there are ways to optimize the bedroom environment as your temperature fluctuates.
Air conditioning may become essential. Research has found people who sleep in cool rooms often are thought to sleep better—and feel more alert—than those who snooze in overly warm settings. If your home doesn’t have central air, a window AC unit or old-school fan may do the trick.
Try a cooling pillow. One of the best things you can do to regulate your temperature overnight is keep your head chilled—in fact, a study of people with insomnia revealed that using a cooling cap helped subjects fall asleep. It also helped them stay asleep for about the same amount of time as adults with healthy sleep. We tested and loved the Tempur-Pedic Tempur-Cloud Breeze Dual Cooling Pillow, which provided a remarkable cooling sensation. We think it’s best suited to side sleepers due to its thicker profile. Additionally, if you want to extend the lifespan of your pillow and buffer it from sweat, throw on a pillow protector. We love Brooklinen’s cotton pillow protector. (And, in our tester’s experience, using a pillow protector and pillowcase didn’t lessen the cooling sensation from the Tempur-Cloud Dual-Breeze.)
Opt for bedding with cooling features. The Casper hyperlite sheets, which have a unique weave that provides ventilation, are a great sheet set that our tester loved. Our favorite mattress protector, the Slumber Cloud Core, incorporates Outlast Technology into its surface fabric to help keep you from overheating. Our tester had mixed experiences with Outlast products in the past, but found it really worked in this product. (Plus, using a mattress protector has the added benefit of providing a buffer from sweat and keeping your mattress clean, which will prolong its lifespan.)
Have a blanket on hand. Unfortunately, running hot is just half of the problem. After a hot flash, you may feel chilled because of heavy sweating. In that case, you’ll also want to have a nearby layer to throw over yourself, which can be easier than changing your pajamas.
When shopping for a mattress, keep temperature in mind. Mattresses last about 10 years or so—as does the menopausal transition. If you find yourself shopping for a new mattress in that time, it’s worth considering beds that sleep cool. We’ve tested plenty of mattresses, and many don’t do a great job of diffusing heat. But some hybrids, like the Awara, sleep cooler than all-foam options. The Purple mattress has a unique grid that makes it incredible at diffusing heat—in hours of blasting the mattress with an infrared bulb, we couldn’t get it to show any signs of warming up.
Try a weighted blanket for symptoms of restless legs syndrome
Researchers have found that restless legs syndrome, a condition that causes the uncontrollable urge to move your legs, is more prevalent in women than in men. To top it off, during and after menopause, some people have reported their symptoms worsening.
Fortunately, a weighted blanket may help. “People with restless legs syndrome may benefit from using a weighted blanket,” according to the Alaska Regional Hospital. “This is because the sensation of the blanket on your legs may override that restless feeling.” The blankets offer a “counterstimulation” according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Of course, temperature is still a consideration and weighted blankets can ramp up your warmth. That said, our favorite weighted blanket is available in a cooling version. It doesn’t actively cool you, and it still sleeps warmer than thin blankets, but it’s somewhat cooler than the Original Gravity Blanket.
Improve your sleep hygiene and nightly habits
There’s only so much you can do to maintain a comfortable temperature and sleep through the night—that will always be a bit of a shot in the dark. However, there are steps you can take right off the bat to improve your ability to fall and stay asleep—namely, maintaining good sleep patterns and hygiene.
Limit your exposure to screens. It’s tough to put your phone away before bed. But electronics release blue light, which suppresses melatonin, the hormone responsible for drowsiness. (Those sleep-oriented phone settings have unknown efficacy.) Turning off your TV and putting your phone away a couple hours before bed can dramatically change the quality of your sleep.
Go to sleep around the same time every night. Sleep is very pattern-driven. If you establish a nighttime routine, you’ll start to feel tired around the same time every evening and wake up about the same time come morning. You may pick up a meditation app, like our favorite, Headspace, to wind down every night. Headspace even has sleep-specific content to help you doze off.
Control the ambient temperature. Even those who don't experience menopause benefit from a certain bedroom environment. What's the best temperature for sleep? Experts generally recommend the mid 60s to low 70s, though it largely depends on personal preference. With a smart thermostat such as our favorite, the Google Nest, you can customize a schedule. Program a drop in temperature a couple hours before bed to match what naturally happens to your body. Then, raise it an hour or so before you plan to get up to help you transition from asleep to awake.
Remind yourself that menopause won't last forever
Unfortunately, there’s not a simple solution to the sleep issues that can arise during menopause. You may go from feeling too hot to feeling way too cold within a matter of minutes—something that would frustrate just about anyone. But making small adjustments to your lifestyle and nighttime routines can help you get the best sleep possible. And when in doubt, just remember: This too shall pass.
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