Following a solid year of social isolation and loads of comfort cooking, many people may be finding as they swap out their winter cozy clothes for lighter layers that things might not be fitting as they should. For middle-aged women entering or in menopause, a new study has found that sleep problems may be contributing to weight gain.
According to a recent Everyday Health report, researchers used 2019 data from the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation and found that starting about two years before the final menstrual period, the rate of fat gain doubles and lean muscle mass declines. This trend continues until several years after the final period.
This shift in body composition, which is not necessarily measured on the scale, is usually attributed to the drop in estrogen levels associated with menopause. The discomfort of menopausal symptoms like hot flashes and night sweats may also make regular exercise and a healthy diet harder to maintain. But why do some women gain midlife weight while others don’t?
Because weight gain, especially around the middle, can be a health risk for women that can lead to diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illness, researchers are interested in what other factors may contribute to menopausal changes in metabolism.
About half of women going through menopause find it difficult to fall and stay asleep. By disturbing the sleep of premenopausal women, whose hormone levels had not yet dropped, researchers were able to study how interrupted sleep can cause women’s bodies to burn less fat. Low estrogen also causes the body to burn less fat and store more, which can quickly lead to weight gain.
To help mitigate menopausal weight gain, getting proper rest may be an important factor to address. To help promote a good night’s sleep, experts recommend spending time outdoors in natural light to help regulate a healthy sleep cycle. It is also advisable to exercise each day, practice stress management, avoid alcohol and smoking, and try to keep a regular bedtime schedule. Sleeping in a cool, dark bedroom with a fan nearby in case of hot flashes and turning off screens an hour before bed to unwind with a bath, music or a book can also help support better sleep. Some people find relief from sleep issues and insomnia with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Talk with your doctor about hormone therapy to help control weight and sleep problems. Hormone therapy may help with sleep problems, weight gain and other symptoms associated with menopause as well as reduce the risk for heart disease from obesity. Daytime function may also improve when there are fewer sleep disturbances.