Have you noticed that you’re struggling to concentrate at work, or that it takes you longer than usual to recover from exercise? Or, are you not getting things done around the house because you always feel too tired to tackle your to-do list? If the answer is yes, it could be menopause fatigue.
Fatigue, along with night sweats and hot flashes is an extremely common menopause symptom and perimenopause symptom. One study showed that a staggering 85% of middle aged postmenopausal women and more than 46% of perimenopausal women experience symptoms of mental or physical tiredness. So, let's take a look at what's going on and some tactics to help you improve sleep quality.
Firstly, what is fatigue?
Fatigue is often described as a lack of energy. It’s a feeling of constant tiredness, burnout, weakness, or a combination of all three. Fatigue can be caused by anaemia, diet, digestive issues, medication or illness.
What is chronic fatigue syndrome?
Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterised by a feeling of being unwell, extreme fatigue or tiredness that doesn't go away with rest. Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome ( which includes men) have sleep problems, shot term memory and verbal learning problems. When very severe, chronic fatigue syndrome can keep you house bound.
Why is fatigue a menopause symptom?
Like most menopause symptoms, hormonal changes are to blame when it comes to fatigue. In perimenopause – the lead-up to menopause – levels of hormones like oestrogen ( estrogen) and progesterone start to decline.
Progesterone is a natural sedative and when it start to fall it has a knock-on effect on other hormones, increasing cortisol and adrenalin and affecting thyroid hormones, which are responsible for regulating our mood and energy levels.
Sleep quality often suffers in menopause
Other factors can come into play too, though, making menopausal fatigue even more common. Poor-quality sleep is definitely one of them. This is common in menopause, as symptoms like night sweats or hot flashes and the need to urinate more frequently (nocturia or nocturnal urination frequency) can cause women to wake up multiple times throughout the night – or struggle to sleep altogether – and therefore feel more tired during the day.
A good night's sleep is essential for overall wellbeing. It supports our immune system, can affect weight gain and is really important for supporting mental health.
Menopausal symptoms include heightened stress
Stress has a role to play in sleepless nights too. Many women experience heightened stress and anxiety during their menopausal transition. Oestrogen plays a part in serotonin production in the brain. Serotonin is a mood booster and helps us to regulate our stress response. Unfortunately it's not a great time to have your stress managing hormones to stop working well as well as coping with other symptoms of low oestrogen
Midlife women are often working full time and potentially looking after teenaged children and ageing parents which can take its toll. Lower progesterone levels stimulate the release of stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline can make your mind race and make it very difficult to get a good night's sleep.
Menopausal women and mental health
The mighty hormone oestrogen also plays a part in in balancing mood by supporting serotonin and endorphin production. Some women can experience low moods as their oestrogen and testosterone supplies start to dwindle.
Testosterone, yep, it's also a female hormone - helps us to feel energetic and motivated. A shortage of these hormone levels can be a recipe for a less than sunny disposition.
How to improve menopause fatigue
The good news is that there are treatments out there to help you beat fatigue, adapt to hormonal changes and associated symptoms and get your energy back. Don't underestimate lifestyle changes, which can have a really positive impact.
For many menopausal women, hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is the go-to treatment for symptoms of menopause. It’s designed to replace the hormones that are lost as menopause approaches – particularly oestrogen and progesterone.
In doing so, HRT helps stop menopause symptoms in their tracks for many women. This can include common symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats, vaginal dryness and menopause related fatigue. other symptoms can include dry, itchy skin, hair thinning, aching joints and midlife acne.
Hormone therapy comes in many forms, from patches, pessaries, sprays and gels to tablets that you take every day. Your doctor will be able to advise which type is best for your menopause transition based on your symptoms.
Regular physical activity
We’re all well aware of the importance of exercise – and no more so than in menopause. While you might feel as though you don’t have the energy to work out or go for a walk, regular physical activity can actually boost your energy levels in the long run.
If you’re not used to exercising, you can start by making small changes, like going for a short walk every day or squeezing in a morning weight-training session before work. As a menopausal woman physical activity is a priority. You'll need to make sure you're doing strength and weight based exercises to help you keep your bones strong and retain your muscle mass. When we feel physically tired we're much more able to relax.
Cut back on caffeine and alcohol
Caffeine is a stimulant, which means too much of it can disrupt your sleep and leave you feeling tired. It's a bit of a vicious cycle, because it’s all too tempting to reach for a cup of coffee when we fare experiencing fatigue and we need an energy boost. but in the long run it means less energy.
To start with, try to stick to only drinking caffeinated drinks in the morning, as they’ll be less likely to interfere with your sleeping pattern.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is a depressant and notorious when it comes to sleep disturbances. While we might think a glass of wine before bed will help us fall asleep, it can actually lower our overall sleep quality if we make a habit of it. And that will, in turn, make fatigue worse. It’s a good idea to cut down wherever you can – not only will it help you feel more awake, but it’ll benefit your overall health and improve your quality of life too.
Work on your sleep hygiene
'Sleep hygiene' is the term used to describe healthy habits you can practice as part of your lifestyle and as part of going to bed. Getting into a proper sleeping pattern can help fight fatigue. Evidence suggests a nightly routine can help us to wind down and get our brains and bodies prepared for a better sleep so we get enough rest.
The importance of a sleep routine
Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day – even when you’re not working. A series of activities you can perform nightly which doesn't vary can help to get your brain to calm down.
An hour before bed, take a warm shower, do some stretching exercises, cleanse, tone and moisturise, do some meditation. Doesn't really matter what you do as long as it's something which you can do each evening and calms mind and body.
Sleep in a bedroom environment of calm
Make your bedroom environment one of calm and tranquility. That means it's a technology free zone. Yep, that includes your phone. Watching television in bed is a hard NO. Try to avoid the urge to nap during the day, and switch off devices like phones and laptops a couple of hours before bed.
Try a herbal supplement or pillow spray
Lavender, chamomile and valerian are all known to be supportive of sleep. Lavender pillow mists and candles have grown in popularity. One of the best we've found is Deep Slumber Sleep Pillow Mist or you could try Deep Sleep Pillow Spray
Chamomile flower contains an antioxidant called apigenin, which is said to support anxiety. Chamomile tea is also easy to add to your bedtime routine and there are a lot of varieties to try. Valerian is known as a natural sedative and is said to help with insomnia and stress. Check out your local store for herbal teas and give it a try. Talk to your doctor before trying a dietary or herbal supplement as they can affect people differently.
Vitamins and Minerals to improve sleep
Taking supplements and vitamins for menopause fatigue can help you to feel better. This should be something you do in addition to the things mentioned above if you want the best results. B vitamins and iron are a good choice, as they can help lift your mood in the day as well as combat tiredness. Magnesium can help to support sleep in adults by helping to relax the central nervous system although evidence is a little thin on the ground. The bottom line
If you’re feeling fatigued during menopause, you’re not alone – it’s a common symptom, caused by fluctuations in hormone levels and sometimes made worse by anxiety, stress, and a lack of sleep. The good news is that treatments like HRT and lifestyle changes like regularly exercising can improve fatigue and get you back on track.
Is fatigue a symptom of menopause?
Fatigue is a symptom of menopause – it’s caused by changing hormones at this time. It can also be caused by other conditions, though, so if you’re concerned, it’s worth speaking to your doctor.
How long does fatigue last during menopause?
It’s common to experience fatigue throughout the entire transition into menopause, which can last eight years or more. Other symptoms that make fatigue worse, like night sweats, can continue for the first one or two years of menopause, too, which can have a knock-on effect on your energy levels.
What helps with extreme fatigue in menopause?
Regular exercise, working on your sleeping pattern, and cutting back on caffeine and alcohol can help ward off fatigue. If you’re suffering from extreme tiredness, treatments like HRT might be a good option for you.