August is officially “sleep month” here at Body of Eve, so I’ve decided to kick it off with a little information about how much sleep we need and how it changes as we move through our journey to menopause. I have definitely had some sleep issues since I entered perimenopause, which I attribute to my quest to figure out how to balance my hormones. I definitely need a lot more sleep because of the extreme feel I’ve felt periodically over the last couple of years. I’ve found that if I don’t get my minimum 8 hours a night, I can’t function without a nap the next day. This makes me feel like such an old lady!
So, what do we know? Science tells us that sleep needs vary across ages and are especially impacted by lifestyle and health. Thus, to determine how much sleep you need, it’s important to assess not only where you fall on the “sleep needs spectrum,” but also to examine what lifestyle factors are affecting the quality and quantity of your sleep such as work schedules and stress. To get the sleep you need, you must look at the big picture.
Menopause is a time of major hormonal, physical and psychological change for women although menopausal symptoms vary from woman to woman. During the perimenopause or transition phase, a woman’s ovaries gradually (over several years) decrease production of estrogen and progesterone. If a woman has her ovaries surgically removed (oophorectomy), periods end abruptly and menopausal symptoms become more severe. One year after menstrual periods have stopped, a woman reaches menopause, on average around the age of 50. From perimenopause to post-menopause, women report the most sleeping problems. Most notably, these include hot flashes, mood disorders, insomnia and sleep-disordered breathing. Sleep problems are often accompanied by depression and anxiety.
It’s important to pay attention to your own individual needs by assessing how you feel on different amounts of sleep. Are you productive, healthy and happy on seven hours of sleep? Or does it take you nine hours of quality ZZZs to get you into high gear? Do you have health issues such as being overweight? Are you at risk for any disease? Are you experiencing sleep problems? Do you depend on caffeine to get you through the day? Do you feel sleepy when driving? These are questions that must be asked before you can find the number that works for you.
How do you determine if when you are sleeping, it’s good sleep? For sleep to be restorative, we need several “complete sleep cycles” every night, says Dalia Lorenzo, MD, instructor of neurology in the Sleep Disorders Center at the University of Miami Veterans Affairs Hospital.
“Sleep is not about just shutting your eyes and opening them in the morning,” she tells WebMD. “There’s stuff going on, regeneration of the brain, consolidation of memories, and that only happens if the architecture of sleep is good.” By sleep architecture, she refers to the pattern of sleep cycles that one completes in a night’s time.
Sleep is prompted by natural cycles of brain activity and consists of two basic states: rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and nonrapid eye movement sleep, which consists of stages 1 through 4. Each cycle lasts about 90 minutes, she explains. “You do that cycle several times night, you’ve had a good night’s sleep,” Lorenzo tells WebMD. “Anything that interrupts that pattern will cause sleepiness the next day.”
As we move through August, Heidi and will be exploring all aspects of sleep with you. We will try to answer the burning questions you probably have about sleep and menopause. We are always in pursuit of a good night sleep. I’ve found that a variety of factors (other than hormonal changes) affect everything from how quickly I fall asleep to the overall quality of my nightly snooze session. I’ll be sharing those soon.
So, stay tuned – and, try to stay awake and pay attention!