In this episode, we’ll be discussing an often-overlooked aspect of menopause: sleep, and how it affects women’s ability to manage their symptoms. We’ll also explore how better sleep, reduced stress, and enhanced recovery can help women navigate this challenging time with greater ease.
Menopause is a natural biological process that marks the end of a woman’s reproductive years. During this time, many women experience a range of physical and emotional symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping.
Sleep problems are one of the most common menopause symptoms, affecting up to 60% of women in this stage of life. Hormonal changes, coupled with the stresses of daily life, can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to insomnia, waking up frequently, or feeling unrested in the morning.
Lack of sleep can exacerbate many of the symptoms of menopause, including irritability, depression, anxiety, and cognitive difficulties. Poor sleep quality can also increase the risk of chronic health problems such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
On the other hand, getting enough sleep and practicing good sleep hygiene can help women manage their menopause symptoms more effectively. Restful sleep can reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance cognitive function, making it easier to cope with the physical and emotional changes of this phase of life.
On today’s episode of the Done With Dieting Podcast, we are doing our third part in my menopause series. And what we’re talking about today is sleep, stress, and recovery.
So, let’s get started.
You are listening to the done with dieting podcast. The podcast for women in midlife, who are done with dieting, but still want to lose weight and feel good in your clothes.
You know that diets don’t work long term. But you feel like there’s this secret that everyone else knows that you just haven’t figured it out yet.
I am your host, Elizabeth Sherman. And I’ve helped hundreds of women get off the diet roller coaster, change their relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies.
Through this podcast, my goal is to help you too.
Welcome. Let’s get started.
Hey everyone, welcome to the Done With Dieting podcast. This is episode number 113, and it is the third part of my menopause series which has been just amazing. I’m so excited to dive into our topic today because in the first two episodes, I talked about nutrition and in part 2, I talked about physical activity.
I think that when we think about health, when we think about doing good for our bodies. One of the first things that we go to is our nutrition and we go to exercise, right? We’ve been taught over, and over, and over again that we need to eat certain things, eliminate other certain things, and that this is the right way to exercise. All the diet advice that we have out there is all about eat less, move more.
We get so many “doing” actions when it comes to eating and exercise because those things are easy to doll out. It’s easy to tell someone exactly what to do.
But since this is the Done with Dieting podcast, and we know that diets don’t work, and the reason that diets don’t work is because we all know what we should already be doing, right? We all know that we should be eating more vegetables, eating more lean proteins. We all know that we should be limiting treats. We all know that we shouldn’t overeat if we want to maintain our weight.
However, we don’t do those things. And the reason that we don’t do those things isn’t because of lack of knowledge. It isn’t because of lack of technique. It isn’t because no one has told us what we should be doing. We all know it.
If you’ve opted into the ‘eight basic habits that healthy people do,’ you already know everything that’s on there, right? We all know that in order to be healthy, we need to eat vegetables, drink water, eat protein with all of our meals. We know that we need to move daily, that we need to sleep, manage our stress, we need to limit our treats. And finally, we need to eat just enough, but not too much. Those are the eight basic habits. And so, we know all that. The question is why don’t we do it?
And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today because today’s information is way more nuanced than do this, don’t do that. We have tons of information out there in Google, in YouTube, all of the resources that are out there that tell us exactly what we should be doing.
But when it comes to stress management and sleep management, that’s a little bit more fuzzy. I can tell you sleep eight hours a day. And I’m sure that most of you out there listening right now would be more than happy to sleep eight hours a day, right?
You’re like, yeah, sign me up. I love sleep. Sleep makes me feel good. But the reason that we’re not sleeping has nothing to do with not knowing that we’re supposed to be sleeping, right? And there are some sleep hygiene things that you can do, like making sure that you have blackout curtains. Making sure that your room is the right temperature. Making sure that you have a good pillow and a good bed and all of that great stuff.
Most of the things that keep us up at night are our brain. It’s thinking about things that are happening throughout the day, which are stress related. And so, today what I want to talk about is how our menopausal symptoms impact our sleep, our stress, and our recovery. And then, also how those things impact our menopausal symptoms because they are so inextricably linked.
And so, once we can see the connection between our stress, sleep, and recovery. And our menopausal symptoms, and we can actively start to practice things that will lower our stress, then we can hopefully sleep better, and we can reduce some of our menopausal symptoms.
So, I’ve recently changed what I call myself. I used to call myself a life and weight loss coach, and I am that. However, it’s always been really interesting to see what my clients call me, how do they refer to me to their friends and their family and the other people that they’re in a relationship with when they talk about our work together. And it’s been interesting to see the different words that they use to describe our work together.
I’ve realized for a long time that weight loss isn’t really a lot of what I do. I mean, yes, I can help my clients lose weight. But weight loss is really kind of the after effect. Weight loss isn’t really what we work on. What we work on is our relationship with our food, with our body, with ourselves.
So, today I am a master certified health and weight loss coach for women in midlife who are experiencing menopause and perimenopausal symptoms. And there are so many changes that happen in a woman’s life during midlife. Not only do we have menopause but the symptoms it produces which create stress, right? Because your body is changing and you’re like, what is happening here?
But also, as we move into midlife and out of our reproductive years, what’s also changing is how we identify ourselves as we age, as women. What’s also changing is the pressures, and the problems, and the stresses that go along in this phase of life. They are so much different than they were before.
The problem is that even though menopause is something that 50% of our world population is or has gone through. There really isn’t a lot of research being done on it. And as much as I love and support doctors, I think science is amazing. I think doctors are amazing and they’re doing fantastic things. Many doctors are failing their patients. They are failing these women because they shrug, and they don’t give their patients a lot of resources.
They tell them that menopause is just something that we have to put up with. Hopefully in this series, you’re starting to be able to connect the dots. And I’m here to tell you that I have witnessed this not only in myself, but in many of my clients. How much we are actually in control of our menopausal symptoms. That our doctors are actually the ones who have failed you. And that’s why I just keep learning more and more and developing my skills so that I can show up for you and show you that you are not alone in your struggles, that there’s another way.
And the primary way that we want to manage our menopausal symptoms is through lifestyle changes first. And then, we can go into supplementation, and we can go into medication after that. But we don’t have to do medication and hormone replacement therapy as a very first stop gap.
So, I call myself a health and life coach for women in menopause in perimenopause. But what I actually do lacks an appropriate name. Some people call it life coaching, other people call it health coaching or wellness coaching. But what I do doesn’t actually fit into one specific description that is easily explained in one sentence.
And so, here’s how I understand it. Our health does not exist on its own in a silo unaffected by the rest of our lives. Rather, our health is a product or a symptom of the rest of our lives.
As women, we have been socialized to adhere to certain rules or guidelines. We need to be pretty, but not beautiful in a sexy kind of way, right? We need to be nice, but don’t be a pushover. Be ambitious, but if you are in a heterosexual relationship, you cannot be more ambitious than your partner. Be a good girl or as we’ve aged, we all want to be good women. Which encapsulates being a good daughter, being a good mother, being a good wife, being a good friend, being a good employee. There’s so much wrapped up there.
Our value is in doing for others and being attractive. That’s what we’ve learned. And so, as a result, so many women feel an enormous societal pressure to be attractive at any cost. And through growing up in a society that values thinness over health, many women have cultivated a poor relationship with food, exercise, and their bodies.
Additionally, because we are socialized to believe that good women do for others, our partner, our parents, our children, our coworkers, our clients. We prioritize other people’s wants over our own basic needs. And when we do practice self-care, we see it as just another item on our to-do list or using the oxygen analogy that we do for ourselves so that we can continue to prioritize other people’s needs and wants.
So, we neglect our own health, our needs, our wants, our dreams and desires, and we are so incredibly hard on ourselves. That if we make even the smallest mistake, it’s unfathomable.
We already know that diets and exercise programs don’t work because those techniques, they only tell us what to do and not how to problem solve when you become so incredibly overwhelmed by all of the items on your to-do list. That instead of doing the next thing that you delay the overwhelm by eating something comforting. A cookie, chips, chocolate, ice cream, whatever it is.
When we can understand how the other parts of our life influence our health. How we view ourselves, our job demands, our family demands, the changing needs of growing children and parents, the changes in our primary relationship. But then also understand how our health impacts those same areas, we can be more empowered to make the decisions that we want instead of what we should be doing.
As a postmenopausal woman, I have been there, and I’ve searched for the answers. And I feel like I’ve cracked the code on feeling good as our hormone shift. And so, as we move out of these reproductive years, I know how hard it is to do all of the things that they say to do and still not get the promised results.
So, there is hope, and I’m going to show you how.
Today we are talking about all of the other things that happen in a woman’s life during midlife. And how we think about those other aspects of our life are the reason why we are or are not eating vegetables or protein. Or we’re just going to the grocery store and getting what’s easiest.
Now, I want you to be aware that as you listen to this, I am not judging. I am absolutely, not judging anyone. But I want to call awareness to the fact that even though you don’t feel stressed, you have a ton of stress in your life and it’s probably impacting the other stuff.
I think that there’s a really good analogy here, which is the frog in the boiling pot of water. I think that for many women, we have gotten so good at handling it all, that when you look at everything that you do today, like thinking back to the 20 year old version of you, if you had put her into this life today, she would be like, what the f*ck is going on? Right?
But you have slowly just been able to handle all of it. And so, what happens is we just take on more, and more, and more, and more, and more responsibility. And in doing so, we don’t even realize how much stress we have in our lives, because we’re so good at freaking handling it all. And if we drop anything, everyone else in our life notices.
Going back to that good girl analogy, I think one thing that really happens is we want to be impenetrable from criticism or judgment. And so, we feel this need to still handle everything because what it means about us if we don’t. So, let’s actually talk about some of those things that may be adding to your stress that you’re just not really aware of.
The first piece I think is aging and how our body is changing as we age. So, there’s no doubt that as we get older, we start to notice the things that we can and cannot do anymore. Our body changes. We may be getting a little bit more fat, right? We may be taking on more fat in our body, even though we haven’t changed any of our eating habits, any of our exercise habits. Our body is changing just because it’s a natural part of the aging process. And society tells us that aging, especially for a woman is bad, right?
So, not only is our body changing but our hair is changing. As our estrogen levels drop, our hair might fall out a little bit. We might have thinning hair. Our skin isn’t as taut as it used to be. It might feel a little crepey or saggy. And so, we’re noticing these things.
And there’s a plethora of beauty products that are out there that are being marketed to us on a daily basis that tell us, hey, do not show your age. Because if you do, then people aren’t going to think that you’re beautiful. And remember, we need to be beautiful as our role in society. That’s how we show our worth.
For sure, our bodies are changing. We are having physical ailments. You might even have some injuries or notice that your joints are a little bit more creaky. And you might be experiencing some health problems that your doctor has said, oh, your blood pressure is high, or you have high cholesterol. And we want to make sure that we get those under control, right? So, these are all of the things that we start to notice as we start to get older.
The second piece here is emotional changes. So, for sure, menopause influences our emotional state. You might notice that you’re getting a little bit more weepy or on the other side of that, you might feel rage and justified. Because I think that as we get older, I talk to younger women all the time and they’re like, oh, I don’t want to get older. I’m like, oh no. Being 50 is like the most liberating thing in the whole world because you don’t care what other people think about you.
I mean, yes, we do care what other people think about us. However, it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same way of when we were younger women. We realize that our life is our own, and we realize that we are the only ones that suffer the consequences and reap the benefits of our own choices. And so, for sure, emotional changes are happening.
But for some, you may find that you are a little bit more anxious or you may find that you suffer from some depression. And that can be really confusing for many because it’s something that just feels more intense. Again, going back to society, we’re supposed to be happy all the time. We’re supposed to be the ones who have it all together and who are nonplussed with anything that comes our way.
And so, to be able to show that we feel anxious, or we feel depressed, or we feel stressed may come across as a weakness. And we can’t show weakness.
The third area that we may experience a little stress out of is our mental or cognitive ability. No doubt that when we enter menopause, many women experience brain fog. We can’t remember things the way that we used to. And we don’t feel like we can concentrate. And so, of course, that impacts us. That creates stress because then we wonder, are other people going to notice? Am I going to get fired from my job if I’m not performing at the level that I should be?
Now, if you’ve listened to episode 111 and 112 where I talk about exercise and nutrition’s impact on our menopausal symptoms. Getting your nutrition and your exercise in line can actually be really helpful for this. However, be aware that we do feel stress about this part of aging. And so, of course, we also have so much that’s going on.
So, thinking about the changes that are outside of us as humans, right? Our children are growing up and they’re becoming adults. Parenting your children is going to be completely different. And for many, we have parents who are aging, and they need our help. And so, this stage of life is also known as the sandwich generation.
And women of course, bear the burden of taking care of their parents way more than sons do. All of these stressors will happen at this stage of life. The mental load that goes along with this time of life in addition to the menopausal symptoms itself and menopause will be a lot for any woman to handle.
Now, if this is you, I would love to be your coach. I want to invite you to schedule a consult or just get to know me better by following me on social media. You can send me a message and I will get you on my email list where I will send out messages to you every single week, tips, techniques, things like that.
But anyway, if this is you, you are not alone. And it can be really helpful to discuss some of these issues and feel better about what’s going on in your life.
The fourth piece here, the fourth part that can actually create a lot of stress is existential stress. And what I mean by that is as we get older, we start to question things like, what is the meaning of life? Like, why am I here? What is my purpose?
And for many of women, we have given up what our own desires and wants are. In favor of taking care of our partner, taking care of our children, taking care of everyone around us. And so, for many of us, we haven’t even asked ourselves the question, what is it that I want? How do I make my purpose in life?
For so many women, I see them being the best supporting actress in the movie of their own lives. And what I mean by that is that everyone else in their lives is so much more important to them. They know their favorite color; they know their favorite food. They know exactly what their schedule is and who their friends are. But they don’t know a lot about themselves. And so, this existential stress is a very real thing and it’s something that I help my clients work on.
And then, the fifth area of stress can be social. So, who our friends are and who do we spend a lot of time with. Do you have a supportive social network? Do you have people that you can rely on to talk about issues, to be a friend, to laugh with, and to depend on. Do you have someone that you can call up in the middle of the night and ask for help?
And then finally, the last area that could cause stress for you is the environment. This is like what is around you. Does your environment create a relatively clean and safe environment? Does it contribute to your wellbeing and healthy behaviors?
So, those are the different areas that we really want to look at and think about, does this create stress for me? And stress and sleep just go hand in hand, right? Because when we feel stress, we don’t sleep well. It’s just a fact. And when we don’t sleep well, we don’t think properly, and we don’t respond to stressful situations very well. And so, it’s really kind of a give and take.
If there’s one thing that is so incredibly important when it comes to menopause and our menopausal symptoms is the ability to have a good night’s sleep. And so, it can be a chicken and an egg type of situation.
So, I do have techniques that I work with my clients on that allow them to prepare for a better night’s sleep. And I recently did a podcast on this called Sleep Routines. I’ll put the link to it in the show notes. But making sure that when you go to bed that your sleep environment is on point, that you have a good relationship with sleep. And that if you do wake up in the middle of the night, then you’re able to manage to go back to sleep. And there are definitely techniques that you can learn for that.
Now, exercise is actually going to play a huge part in both stress management as well as sleep management. If you’ve ever gone to bed and you felt wired but tired, that probably means that you have not worked off the excess energy that your body has stored up. And so, you’re mentally exhausted from the stress and from your day. However, your body still has all of this energy.
If that is something that you experience, I’m going to suggest that you start an exercise routine. Doesn’t have to be so super intense, but anything is going to be more helpful than not doing anything.
Now, during menopause, there are fluctuations in our hormone levels. We know that, right? But particularly in estrogen. And so, what can happen is this can lead to hot flashes and night sweats. Which of course can disrupt sleep and make it difficult to fall and stay asleep. And if you caught the last two episodes, we definitely know that there’s a link between what you’re eating, and hot flashes or night sweat, and there’s also a link between exercising. Exercising can definitely reduce your hot flashes as well as your night sweats.
When we don’t sleep well, that will definitely have an impact on certain menopausal symptoms such as feeling anxious. So, if mood swings, or feeling anxious, or irritability is something that you struggle with, sleep is definitely going to help alleviate that. And again, as I mentioned before, these two sleep and stress are really linked together. And so, we really want to make sure that we stay on top of having good sleep hygiene and making sure that you’re prioritizing sleep so that then you can manage your stress better and you can sleep better. So, it’s kind of a chicken and an egg thing.
Now, I want to talk a little bit about recovery. And I want to talk about recovery because recovery is going to be so super important when it comes to our stress. Which then impacts our sleep and impacts our menopausal symptoms.
When we’re talking about recovery, we can talk about it from the lens of self-care. And I think that for so many women we have this litany of things that we should be doing. We should be taking better care of ourselves. And so, self-care feels like something else that we need to do.
Now, I frame self-care a little bit different than most. So, when I think about self-care or recovery, what I think about is taking care of the future version of yourself. What does she need? Sometimes she needs us to say no to something. Now, I say that and I also want to acknowledge that there may be things that we absolutely cannot say no to.
Like aging parents, or job stress, or things like that. There may be certain things that are just part of our life.
When we talk about recovery, it’s really important to understand what things we have in our lives that actually bring us joy. What are the things that are in our life that actually replenish us? And so, self-care does not have to mean manicures and massages, which are expensive, and they take a lot of time. Those things are great. Don’t get me wrong.
But instead of what many of us do is run to the pantry, when we’re feeling stressed, or tired, or unable to cope. What we really want to be doing is asking ourselves, what do I need right now? What is this chocolate, or this ice cream, or this drink? What is it doing for me? How is it helping me and what can I do instead?
So, sometimes we need a bath. Not a big bath person, but I know that there are some people out there. So, if that’s what you need, go for it. Sometimes we just need to go to bed. Sometimes we need to just go to sleep. Sometimes we need to call a friend, or we just need a hug or to go for a walk.
And so, when we talk about recovery, we’re talking about really looking to the deep part of who you are and what it is that you need other than chocolate or eating something. Because we do that. Our brains are like, I know what would solve this problem. A cookie would solve this problem. And then, we eat the cookie and then we’re like, yeah, no, that didn’t solve the problem. It tasted good for the minute, maybe 30 seconds that I was eating it.
I forgot about my problems, or I forgot about my stress. But now that I’ve eaten it, I don’t really feel so good. And then, what that does is it perpetuates the stress because oftentimes when we’re eating foods that aren’t good for our bodies. It creates inflammation and stress inside of our bodies, therefore perpetuating this whole problem.
Recovery can also look like talking about stress. I know that for myself, I love having a coach and I actually have a few. And I have coaches because many times, all the time what I’m thinking in my head like keeping it up there, it seems true. But then once I talk about it, I hear the words coming out of my mouth and I’m like, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Like when I’m resentful, or when I’m angry, or when I’m feeling jealous, or whatever it is that’s stressing me out.
What can really happen is having someone to talk to other than a friend. And this doesn’t have to be me but talking to a therapist, talking to another coach can really be helpful. And so, I want to spend the last moments of our time together today talking about cognitive behavior therapy. And cognitive behavior therapy is the techniques that I do in my coaching practice is based off of cognitive behavior therapy.
C B T can actually be really helpful in managing symptoms associated with menopause because it can help us change the way that we think and behave in response to our symptoms. And in response to other problems that are happening in our lives. So, keeping in theme with menopause, C B T can really help us in learning to cope with strategies for hot flashes. Such as having some relaxation techniques, learning to reframe how we think about exercise and eating properly, and some stress management techniques. Which can definitely help reduce the frequency and the severity of hot flashes.
C B T can also help you develop healthy sleep habits and patterns such as practicing good sleep hygiene and avoiding those habits that interfere with sleep. Such as using electronic devices before we go to bed, or revenge bedtime procrastination. If you know it, you know it.
Revenge bedtime procrastination is a situation that I see so many of my clients fall into, which is everyone has been coming at them all day. And they just want some peace and quiet. And so, they stay up way past their bedtime just so that they can get some peace and quiet. And they end up staying up way too late. So, CBT can also help with that.
CBT can also help women identify and challenge negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety and depression. And also help to normalize those emotions. So, when we feel anxious or when we feel depressed, not believing the thoughts that are in our heads that tell us that there’s something wrong, that we shouldn’t be feeling this way.
Like when we can get to a place where we accept our emotions that, yeah, I feel anxious, and this is why. And that’s totally okay. Then, what happens is we normalize it and it doesn’t feel as intense.
C B T can also help women manage pain associated with muscle and joints by teaching techniques for managing pain, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and visualization exercises. And also, we can help you with your weight by normalizing it. Who said that as 50 year old women, we need to still look like we’re 30 or 20. Some women come to me and they’re like, I want to be the weight that I was in high school. Why? Who told us that we were supposed to do that?
So, it’s really important to keep in mind that every woman’s experience with menopause is totally unique. But that talk therapy and C B T can actually work. Especially, when it comes to sleep and stress management.
What works for one person may not work for another. And so again, I am going to highly recommend that if you don’t have a coach or a therapist, that if you’re struggling with stress, if you’re struggling with sleep, all of these things are connected.
So, if this is something that you want to explore more of, I’m going to invite you to schedule a consultation call with me. Go to elizabethsherman.com/consults, and we can figure out if coaching is the right step for you.
The other thing I’m going to invite you to do is share and review this podcast. If it’s been helpful to you, I would love for you to share it with another woman who you know, struggles with these same things. And I would love it if you would write a review for the podcast, so that other women who aren’t in your network can find it.
Have an amazing week, everyone. And I will talk to you next time. Bye-bye.
Hey, if you enjoy listening to this podcast, you have to come check out the Feel Good Sisterhood. It’s my small group coaching program where we take all this material, and we apply it. We figure out what works for us, and we don’t ever look at another diet ever again. Join me over at elizabethsherman.com/groupcoaching.
I’d love to have you join me in the Feel Good Sisterhood. See you there.