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From Sleep Divorces to Spray Bottles — Surprising Sleep Remedies for Meno-somnia

Sleep is crucial at all stages of life, but during menopause it takes on a whole new level of urgency. Menopause can bring with it problems like night sweats, insomnia and anxiety that dramatically interrupt sleep. And these symptoms can create a vicious cycle: You’re not feeling your best and desperately want to rest up in order to feel better, but you end up feeling even worse when your symptoms make it impossible to sleep. In fact, the Sleep Foundation reports that over half of menopausal women have experienced sleep problems.

For decades, menopausal issues — chief among them “meno-somnia,with its sweaty, sleepless nights — have been shrouded in silence and shame, due to societal stigmas around women’s health. The way we look at this phase of life is slowly but surely changing, as menopause has received increasing media coverage and celebrities have talked about their experiences more openly. 

Now, a new book is adding to the menopause conversation. Hot and Bothered: What No One Tells You About Menopause and How To Feel Like Yourself Again (Buy from Amazon, $22.99) is written by Jancee Dunn, a veteran journalist who covers health at The New York Times. The book blends Dunn’s personal experience with expert opinions from menopause specialists. The dearth of accessible books on menopause is what inspired Dunn to write Hot and Bothered. “Even though I’m a health writer, I didn’t connect the dots of my symptoms of perimenopause when I was 45,” she admits. Once she realized what was happening, she still struggled to find material that discussed menopause in a relevant way — “I went to my library and there were acres of pregnancy books, but just one dusty book from the ’90s about menopause,” she says.

Dunn believes protecting your sleep is one of the most important things you can do during this transition. “I’m fanatical about doing whatever it takes to get your sleep,” she says — for her, this extended to having a “sleep divorce” from her husband. For more on that and other natural remedies for menopause sleep problems, keep reading.

Your partner keeping you up? Consider a ‘sleep divorce.’

Simply put, a sleep divorce is the act of sleeping separately from your partner, and it’s on the rise. A survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by OnePoll found that 49% of respondents would like to have a sleep divorce, and women over age 55 are more than twice as likely to opt for a sleep divorce than younger women.

The choice to sleep apart can be motivated by your partner’s snoring, your hot flashes and tendencies to toss and turn or any other combination of these factors. A 2016 study even found that sleep problems and relationship problems often occur simultaneously, so a sleep divorce doesn’t just provide a better rest — it might also improve your marriage.  

If you do decide to ask for sleep divorce, make it a collaborative discussion with your partner, says Dunn. Say something like, “to make our relationship better, I need to prioritize sleep.” Dunn acknowledges that it’s not an easy conversation, but points out “it’s either that, or you’re screaming at your partner.” Plus, a sleep divorce doesn’t have to be as extreme as it sounds: You can still spend time in bed, cuddle and even have sex, as long as your partner leaves the room at some point in the night. If you feel sheepish about having the sleep divorce talk, remember that your partner is aging too — and having these “unsexy” conversations can ultimately make both of your lives easier. 

If you’re not quite ready for a sleep divorce, take heart: There are many more options that can help you get the sleep you need.

Night sweats? Spray yourself with rose water.

If hot flashes wake you up in the night, Dunn recommends spritzing your face with rose water. “It immediately cools you down,” she says. As a bonus, the pleasant scent and cooling sensation add a welcome self-care element. We recommend Heritage Store’s Rose Water & Glycerin Hydrating Facial Mist (Buy from Amazon, $13.39). The spray may have additional benefits in calming menopausal bothers, as rose water has also been found to ease anxiety and relieve headaches

Also smart: Consider buying sweat-wicking sheets and sleepwear to stay cool. Finally, research has also shown that a cooling pillow may help. You can buy a pillow specifically designed to be cooling or in a pinch, you can even pop your pillowcase in the freezer before bed.

Toss and turn all night? Kick the cat out.

When you’re in the midst of a 3 a.m. hot flash, you might think you have no control over the situation. While it’s true you can’t always control your symptoms, you can control your environment and make yourself more comfortable. The first step of getting a good night’s sleep is taking stock of the bedroom elements you have power over. For Dunn, this meant not letting her cat sleep in her bed, taking her phone out of the bedroom and getting blackout curtains. You may also want to consider replacing overhead lights, which activate the cells that tell your eyes when lights are present more aggressively than regular lamps. A Harvard Medical School study confirmed that regular exposure to bright lighting can keep you awake, and suggests ambient lighting is more conducive to drifting off.

Racing thoughts? Try CBT-I.

In her pursuit of sleep, Dunn tried CBT-I, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically tailored to insomnia. This type of therapy helps you replace your anxious thoughts about sleep with more positive and affirming ones. And it works: A Northwestern University study found that virtual CBT-I improved insomnia symptoms and boosted participants’ psychological well-being. As W. Chris Winter, MD, a neurologist who specializes in sleep issues, explains, “CBT-I helps you understand how to quiet your mind. That has a big implication in terms of the depth of your sleep.” Dunn points out that unlike other forms of therapy, which might not be explicitly tailored to a specific problem, CBT-I doesn’t need to be ongoing. In just a few sessions, you can memorize the various techniques and use them on your own nightly.

To find a CBT-I therapist, Dunn recommends checking the University of Pennsylvania’s CBT-I Provider Directory, which allows you to find specialists by location. There’s even a free CBT-I app you can download to try it out.

Wake in the middle of the night? Try melatonin this way.

You’ve likely heard about melatonin supplements for sleep, which Dunn has also found helpful. However, you should be mindful of your dosage. Rubin Naiman, PhD, a psychologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of Arizona Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, explains: “Melatonin rises in the body at night to facilitate sleep, then falls to let you awaken in the morning. But high doses can cause levels to spike too fast, then drop too early, which triggers nighttime awakenings.” He suggests taking between 300 micrograms and 1 mg. 30 minutes before bed. Dunn says a 0.5 mg. dose has been effective in improving her sleep. As Dr. Naiman notes, a smaller dose “sustains the levels that enhance the natural sleep process, rather than disrupting it.”

The Bottom Line

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for menopausal sleep woes, Dunn says that after doing extensive research, “there are treatments for virtually everything.” It may take some trial and error — but following Dunn’s lead and finding the treatments that work best for you will help you get the restorative sleep you deserve.

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