My dreams are quite vivid and bizarre, as you will know if you follow me on Facebook or Instagram. However, they haven’t always been this way, at least not that I can recall. This makes me question if there is a connection between our dreams and the perimenopause.
I should clarify that I haven’t received a formal perimenopausal diagnosis, but based on the night sweats, the sporadic hot flushes, the irregular, heavier, and more painful periods, as well as the increased anxiety, mood swings, and dark thoughts, I’d say it’s a fairly reasonable assumption that I am. So, when we go into this stage of our lives, do our dreams change? Does having more vivid, realistic-feeling, and remembered dreams result from hormonal changes? I’m going to dig a little deeper into this and try to figure out why I keep experiencing these strange dreams.
But first, let’s look at the causes of dreaming more broadly:
WHAT MAKES US DREAM? Over the course of a single night, we go through four distinct sleep stages, which we repeat between 4-6 times before waking up. All four stages are conducive to dreaming, but the REM phase is when our brains are the most active and, thus, when we are most likely to have vivid dreams (Rapid Eye Movement). The REM phase is the fourth in the cycle, so if you were to wake up naturally—that is, without an alarm—you would do so during this phase, which increases your chances of remembering your dream. However, you are considerably less likely to remember the dream if you awaken from REM sleep and then immediately fall back to sleep and resume the first phase.
The precise reasons why humans dream have not yet been determined despite years of research into sleep and dreams. There are many different ideas, and there are probably many different reasons why we dream. Just a few of them are as follows:
Memory Storage – If you imagine the brain as being somewhat similar to a computer, our memories require the same kind of hard drive backup that data do. It is believed that dreaming functions as a sort of interactive memory filing system. Mental Decluttering – It’s possible that because our brains have to retain so much data, dreaming is a means for us to get rid of part of it. – Processing Your mind will be blown by this: on average, we process over 70,000 photos daily! Perhaps our dreams are just a mechanism for us to assimilate everything that happened to us that day.
Even while you may not be able to recall your dreams, on average, each person dreams for about two hours every night. Intriguingly, it’s thought that women dream more vividly than males do, which leads us to our next inquiry.
HOW IS SLEEP AFFECTED BY PERIMENOPAUSE? Since the beginning of time, women have gone through the menopause, but it hasn’t been extensively and openly discussed until quite recently. Let’s get one thing straight right away: the menopause lasts only one day. Yes, you read that right. The day after a year has elapsed since your last menstruation is considered the menopause. The entire period leading up to this, which will take several years, is referred to as the perimenopause, and it is during this time that women start to notice changes in their sleep habits, frequently quite major ones.
Night sweats, inability to sleep, irregular breathing while sleeping, and vivid nightmares are the most common sleep problems that perimenopausal women encounter. And of course, all of them have an impact on how much and how well we sleep, as well as how we feel and how well we perform the next day. Insufficient sleep can make us grouchy and uninspired. In an effort to find some energy from somewhere, we are more prone to eat bad food and consume more calories than usual. Because we are already worn out, we are less likely to exercise. Along with all the other perimenopause symptoms, it can also make us feel extremely emotional, nervous, pressured, and even depressed. This just goes to show how important sleep is to our physical and mental health.
And what’s the reason for this disturbance in our sleep? hormone adjustments. Specifically, oestradiol (a kind of oestrogen), whose levels fall during perimenopause and have been associated with disturbed sleep, particularly if they do so too quickly. An example of a sex hormone is oestrogen, which regulates not only a woman’s reproductive system but also her immune system, skeletal system, and cardiovascular system. Low oestrogen levels are frequently linked to aging, the peri- and menopause, as well as these low levels impact body weight and body fat . For instance, hot flashes may result in poor sleep, which has been linked to insulin resistance and obesity. As we all know, a spike in body temperature—hot flushes and nocturnal sweats anyone?!—is another contributing cause to perimenopause.
ARE MORE VIBRANT DREAMS RELATED TO HORMONE CHANGES DURING PERIMENOPAUSE? The likelihood that we will dream increases during REM sleep, and the fact that women have more vivid dreams than men suggests that women get more REM sleep than men, but why may this be the case?
Despite evidence suggesting that women sleep more than men do on average, the sleep we do obtain tends to be less uninterrupted. This could be due to a multitude of factors, including hormonal changes, variations in body temperature, fears and anxieties that affect our minds, etc. But naturally, interrupted sleep causes us to awaken at times during our sleep cycles when we wouldn’t normally. And as a result, we frequently wake up in the middle of a dream, which increases the likelihood that we will recall it and make the dream seem more vivid.
Let’s not ignore how stress affects our ability to sleep. Just wait until those hormones really go haywire if you thought you had anxiety before perimenopause symptoms appeared. It happens when we already have a lot going on in our lives. You could say we’re “trouble juggling.” attempting to hold all of those balls in the air without having them all fall to the ground on us. Children entering adolescence or leaving the nest, aging parents with health difficulties, professional obligations, shifting friendships, societal pressures, and of course, there’s also the minor matter of all the nonsense that happens in the world to throw into the mix as well. There are many things to worry about, let’s face it. And since our brains must deal with this fear in some way, it feeds into our dreams.
Because shallower sleep is associated with falling oestrogen and rising progesterone levels, you are more likely to wake up in the middle of a dream, which can make the dream seem much more vivid. When our fears are present, dreams frequently transform into nightmares and night terrors, which likewise heighten the sense of realism. Additionally, vivid, spooky, action-packed dreams may quicken our heartbeats and elevate our adrenaline levels, which may result in a night sweat. So, if the dream itself didn’t wake you up, the sweat puddles covering your bed most certainly will.
DO I NEED TO BE WORRIER? To put it simply, no. Having more vivid dreams and nightmares during perimenopause and at specific times during your cycle is quite natural. But if this is affecting your sleep, energy levels, mood, or just general well-being, that should be cause for concern. Yes, this is an issue and you should seek help immediately if it is interfering with your regular life. Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee that it will be simple. Like I said, even though the topic of perimenopause has become more widely discussed, it can still be difficult to find support and to be taken seriously. As a result, when you schedule a consultation with your doctor about it (which you absolutely should), you’ll need to be prepared with all the information. Start by documenting your symptoms in a notebook or on a menopause app like Balance or Flo, if you prefer. Pay close attention to how much sleep you get each night, how often you wake up, what dreams you have, whether or not you experience night sweats, and how you feel the next day. This kind of information will provide your doctor a better understanding of your overall health and make you feel more at ease while conversing with him or her.
If nothing else, joining one of the many menopause or perimenopause support groups on Facebook can help you realize you’re not alone in what you’re going through. Talking freely about it, reading about other women’s experiences, and getting advice are all very helpful and will empower you on your own journey.
However, there are a few things you can try in the interim to attempt to obtain a better night’s sleep:
Reduce your caffeine intake. As we all know, caffeine and sleep do not mix well, so consider cutting back on one or two cups of coffee a day, or at the absolute least, avoid drinking any too close to night. Also keep in mind that beverages like cola, tea, and chocolate also contain caffeine. Consider what and when you eat. Eating a big meal right before bed will tax your digestive system more and probably keep you awake most of the night. Try not to eat anything after 7 o’clock, or if you do, make sure it’s light and not too much. Step away from the screens. It has been demonstrated that the blue light emitted by computer and phone screens reduces melatonin generation in the body. Which is unfortunate because this hormone regulates sleep in the body, and if you don’t have enough of it, it will be difficult for you to fall asleep. If at all possible, keep screens out of the bedroom and try to avoid using them for at least 30 minutes before retiring for the evening. Regular exercise – Exercise has several benefits, one of which is that it promotes sounder sleep. Really, it makes sense—exercise depletes your energy, necessitating recovery time for your body. Just be careful not to exercise vigorously too late in the day since this will increase your adrenaline levels and could have the exact opposite impact. Keep your cool. Being unable to fall asleep is the worst, and it can literally drive you crazy. Stop fighting it and get up instead of checking the time every five minutes, tossing and turning, and exhaling heavily. Although it may seem paradoxical, getting up and doing something to help you relax will greatly increase your chances of being able to go asleep again. To assist interrupt the cycle, try reading for a while, going to the kitchen for a drink, or simply sitting somewhere different for a while. If you’re in the perimenopause, you probably aren’t a stranger to feeling hot in bed—and I don’t mean sexy hot. You might want to try one or all of the following if you frequently wake up in a sweaty mess: check your central heating and possibly turn it down a few notches; change your duvet to a lower tog; open a window; purchase a fan; switch your sheets to a breathable natural fabric such as cotton or linen; change your pyjamas.
The only thing you need to do is look at your own dreams to see how funny they can be! It makes sense that our dreams are so significantly impacted by the changes that take place in our bodies as a result of the hormones that change and ebb away during the perimenopause stage of our life. As a mechanism to release any stress, whether it be mental or physical, dreams are likely to depict it. Therefore, although while more vivid dreams may appear like just another unwelcome perimenopause symptom, they are actually quite beneficial to us.
ARE YOU EXPERIENCING THE PERIMENOPAUSE AND HAVE YOU NOTICED THAT YOUR DREAM LIFE IS MORE VIBRANT? Please get in touch with us by leaving a comment below or by connecting with us on social media. We’d love to hear from you.
Becky Stafferton, a mother of two and recognized Queen of the hashtags, blogs full-time on her website The Art of Healthy Living. She works tirelessly to spread a good, attainable, and practical view of what it means to live a healthy life. When she’s not reading or writing in her teenage diary, you can find her downing flapjacks, squatting like her life depends on it, sprinting through mud puddles, making lists of lists, and having a good old moan.