Fighting Menopause Fatigue

By: Red Hot Mamas

Published: May 26, 2010

Written by Menopause Minute® Editors

Summer is taking a break this year. The usual heat and sunshine we usually feel in July and August is hardly noticeable this year. Instead, cool temperatures, rain, rain and more rain has plagued most of our nation. Beside a few surprise heat waves, grey skies have prevailed.

My garden is happy, my hot flashes make less frequent appearances, but I wake up in the morning feeling like pulling the covers up over my head! I know I could stay in bed all day listening to the pitter patter of rain falling on my roof. When I finally decide to drag myself out of bed on these gray days, I feel tremendously sleepy and sluggish.  Are those gray days to blame, or is it menopause making me feel like a drowsy ball of somnolence?

Fatigue is a common, distressing problem at menopause.   Many women experience a significant lack of energy and tiredness which can lead to irritability, anxiety, stress, mood swings and even lead to depression. Chronic fatigue can also lead to physical problems, including blurry vision and problems hearing. Yuck! Bottom line, it can really make you feel lousy. And, as if menopause doesn’t do enough of a number on your sex life, fatigue can contribute to making sex look like a thing of the past.  If it gets out of control, it can greatly affect relationships with friends, coworkers and family.

What’s Going On?
As you grow older, your body is changing and working hard to acclimate to diminished hormone levels as well as dealing with the many symptoms associated with menopause. Chances are you’re living your life as you did prior to menopause (as you should).  You probably carry the same work load, take on the same responsibilities and try to be the power woman you always are.  Sometimes it is easy to forget your body is in transition. It may catch up to you in different ways emotionally and physically.

Hormonal changes can have a great effect on the nervous system at menopause.  Estrogen is a key element in brain functioning. When that estrogen is dropping, many physiological and psychological changes occur. On top of that, common midlife social changes can cause excessive stress for many of us! Before you know it, stress and anxiety leads to insomnia and makes you feel totally drained and exhausted.

Insomnia is one of the major contributors to fatigue. In a recent Red Hot Mamas web-based sleep survey of 485 women, over 40% of menopausal women experience sleep disturbances every night. Many reasons may contribute to insomnia at menopause:

  • Hot flashes and night sweats
  • Declining hormone levels
  • Sleep apnea
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Life stressors
  • Other health issues (including thyroid problems, pain, urinary incontinence, etc.)

What Can I Do About Feeling Tired All the Time?
Getting a good night’s sleep is the first step. Everyone’s sleep requirements are different. Some people can get along just fine with 5-6 hours of sleep, while others need 10-11 hours to feel their best. On average, 7-8 hours of sleep a night is recommended. In a recent Boston University School of Medicine research study, participants who reported sleeping under 6 hours or more than 9 hours per day had an increased incidence of diabetes, compared to those who slept 7-8 hours.

To determine how much sleep you need per night, determine a time when you will wake up every morning and set your alarm clock. Don’t nap, stay away from alcohol, caffeine, cigarettes and medications that can affect your sleep. Go to sleep each night when you feel tired. If you can’t sleep within the first 15-25 minutes of placing your head on your pillow, read a book, get up and watch television, etc.  Continue the routine for two weeks. If you keep waking up at the same time every day, you can adjust your bedtime to your needs. For example, if your wake up time is 7am and you try going to bed at 11pm but feel tired, add an extra hour by going to bed at 10pm. Give it another two weeks and adjust accordingly, if necessary.

If you think you’re getting a good night’s sleep, try some other lifestyle changes to fight fatigue:

  • Light exercise can fight fatigue. It sounds counter intuitive, right? Well, the best thing we can do for our bodies when we feel tired is exercise!  Moderate (discuss with your doctor what level this is for you) and consistent (3-4 times per week) aerobic exercise can actually give you energy! Just make sure you don’t work out too close to bedtime.
  • Don’t eat too much and eat the right foods. Healthy, light meals are best. Start your day off right and eat your breakfast to raise your blood sugar level in the morning to boost energy.  Don’t forget to hydrate and drink at least 8 glasses of water every day.
  • Get a handle on stress. Deep breathing techniques, stress reducing activities like yoga, massage and meditation can actually revitalize and energize your body. If work is causing you stress, try some of the techniques listed in the opening letter of this newsletter.
  • Cut back on the coffee and other caffeine. It may make you feel like you’re awake and alert after drinking a big mug of coffee, but after a few hours, it will wear off and make you crash.

Have you Tried Everything?
Do you feel like nothing is working, even after trying the above recommendations? Talk to your doctor to see if there are other problems besides menopause contributing to your fatigue. Low thyroid functioning or some medications can commonly cause fatigue.  Check to make sure there are no underlying conditions you may not be aware of.

Other treatments are available including hormone therapy (HT). Studies have shown HT improves REM sleep and sleep quality.  Antidepressants can also be helpful for sleep and decreasing fatigue. If you either cannot or do not want to take HT or depressants, there are other prescription medications available that are specifically designed to help you get the sleep you need.

Regardless of your next move to improve fatigue, sit down with your doctor and discuss your options. You don’t have to suffer with fatigue forever. You can feel energized and refreshed at menopause and beyond.