Circadian Rhythms and Post Menopause Sleep

Circadian rhythms are 24 hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock, running in the background to carry out essential functions and processes. One of the most important circadian rhythms is the sleep-wake cycle.

Sleep disruption was one of the most frustrating and debilitating issues I experienced during my menopause transition. Previously, I could always fall asleep easily and sleep through the night. My sleep-wake cycle seemed to cope and adjust as necessary.

Not valuing sleep

Saying that, I never previously prioritized sleep. Working in a corporate environment for 20 years, it was almost a badge of honor to have the ability to work continuously through the night (often for numerous nights on end) without ‘needing’ sleep. I was in fact quite proud of this ‘superior’ ability of mine. I felt quite tough and in control. Looking back, it was kind of false bravado – I was in fact compromising my health by stupidly thinking this way.

My peri-menopause sleep issues

Peri-menopause however changed all that. For the first time in my life, I could not sleep on demand and without adequate sleep, I really struggled to cope with everyday life. My sleep-wake cycle seemed to fluctuate wildly along with my crazily fluctuating hormones!

I suffered insomnia and constantly woke up throughout the night needing to use the toilet. At the very worst point, I was waking up literally dripping in sweat and had to change my clothes up to 3 times a night. I also had times where I woke up in the early hours of the morning and couldn’t return to sleep. The result was not dissimilar to the feelings of sleep depravation with a newborn – only worse because you are also a lot older! It wasn’t good!

(Looking back, I also realise that my decision to stop early morning personal training work coincided with peri-menopause and the worst point in my sleep issues. At the time, I didn’t correlate what was happening. I suppose I was lucky that I could reduce a lot of my work at this time of life while I adjusted to this massive change in my body. I know that this is not always possible or desirable for most women and this is where learning more about sleep, how we can manage it better during menopause and seeking help when needed, is important.)

Post menopause sleep

Now in post menopause, my overall sleep has improved – kind of helps when you aren’t lying in a pool of sweat every night! However, I must admit I have become a little too relaxed with my sleep hygiene again lately and gradually, the great habits I had adopted have begun to relax. To be totally honest it shows – I haven’t been exactly ‘glowing’ lately (when my sleep is going well, it definitely shows in my skin) and I’ve been feeling generally a bit fatigued.

Writing this article has emphasised the importance of re-introducing my morning/evening rituals, so that I can again optimise my sleep – and my health.

I’ll note here that some women continue to experience severe sleep issues in post menopause. If that is you, read on, check you are doing everything you can to help yourself and if necessary, seek help from a sleep coach and/or doctor.

Why is sleep disrupted at menopause?

As you may know (it took me a while to accept it!), sleep is a critical factor for good health – our body and mind recover and repair during sleep and this allows us to operate optimally.

When estrogen and progesterone decrease, many sleep related processes are affected – body temperature regulation, cortisol regulation and melatonin production are some of the issues that can compromise our ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. We are also more sensitive to things like light and sound – ie ultra dark, quiet rooms for sleep may now be necessary.

Becoming aware of the reasons my sleep was being disrupted, as well as learning about strategies that could help me, changed my life and I was eventually getting more sleep than ever before.

There were some nights when all didn’t go to plan but overall, prioritizing sleep made a huge difference to managing menopause and also improved my overall health.

I improved my sleep by working with my natural circadian rhythms

When I go camping this happens naturally – I wake when its light, move around a lot throughout the day in daylight and go to sleep when its dark. After 2 weeks of camping, I always return feeling fabulous and I naturally achieve around 7 ½ hours’ sleep a night. This seems to be my ‘sweet’ spot.

Incorporating a daily sleep promoting routine that mimics some of the benefits I gain from camping is the key for me.

My motto is – start preparing for sleep when waking

My ideal sleep hygiene routine goes like this:

  • morning walk allowing natural daylight to enter my eyes – this helps to tell my body that its morning, cortisol is released (although too much cortisol is detrimental, we need some to give us energy) and melatonin secretion stops.

  • spend more time outdoors during the day – which for me is generally going for a jog or taking my dog for walks.

  • remove stimulants from my day around 4pm – I try to stop drinking green tea and eating foods that contain caffeine (that’s the time which works well for me – you may be have less or more tolerance to caffeine etc, so it’s important to find out what’s right for you)

  • try not to exercise in the evening. It’s not always possible but I do try to finish up with enough time to help my body wind down and my body temperature to drop.

  • finish up eating at a reasonable time in the evening. We want our body to be recovering and rejuvenating throughout the night, not trying to start the digestion process.

  • remove stimulation from electronic devices at least an hour before bed (I really struggle with this one!!)

  • drink ½ cup of tart cherry juice half an hour before sleep. Tart cherry juice contains a form of natural melatonin and numerous studies support its benefits (I was skeptical about this but it does help me)

  • read a book in bed

  • a short guided meditation

  • lights out ideally by around 10.30

Making sleep a priority

Of course, every person’s circadian rhythm is different and you need to find a routine that works for you. However, by making sleep a priority and working towards creating your own sleep hygiene rituals and routines, you will go a long way to improving your overall sleep and health.

Yes, achieving a good night’s sleep can take a lot more planning and effort now in post menopause compared to pre-menopause. However, I believe that the benefits really are worth it.

Tania

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