What Would You Do For a Good Night’s Sleep?

Sleep and Menopause: The Science Part

Sleep disruption is a common symptom throughout menopause. A recent study found that 80% of menopausal women claim to suffer from disturbed sleep. Issues ranged from difficulty getting to sleep, recurrent waking, not being able to get back to sleep, needing to empty their bladder, hot flushes, night sweats, needing to change the bed sheets, unexplained anxiety and palpitations.

Good quality sleep is essential for wellbeing, as lack of sleep can affect energy levels, focus, concentration, mood and motivation. Sleep is essential for our cells to renew and our bodies to repair and rejuvenate, reducing our stress levels. It is restorative to the nervous system, skeletal and muscular systems and plays a large role in the function of the hormone and immune systems. It is not surprising then that poor quality sleep has been linked to various health issues, such as increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and overall risk of death.

The general consensus is that six to eight hours of sleep per night is the optimal amount for maintaining good health. However, everyone is different, and the amount of sleep needed will vary. Experiencing difficulties sleeping during menopause does not mean that you are at a higher risk of the health concerns mentioned. There are a multitude of genetic and environmental factors that contribute to your overall risk.

Being aware of the possible implications and making proactive changes to improve sleep quality longer term is the key to optimising our wellbeing.

What can we do to improve the quality of our sleep during the menopause?

I have pulled together a number of ideas to get you started. It is important to know that our sleep patterns are habit-forming and so it may take persistence to change poor sleep patterns into new beneficial ones.

  • Try to keep to a regular sleep routine. Go to sleep and get up at a similar time each day. This supports a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Try to avoid daytime napping. If you do nap keep it short and avoid napping later in the day/evening. If you are sleeping poorly at night you may feel pressure to nap during the day but this can confuse your body and the wakeful hormones can then kick in and keep you awake later that night.
  • Limit caffeine intake in the evening and ideally have your last caffeine drink mid-afternoon.
  • Exercise close to bedtime may cause a surge in adrenal and other hormones and induce wakefulness. Calming yoga routines or stretches may be more beneficial.
  • Ideally leave two to three hours between a main meal and going to bed. Large meals close to bedtime will increase metabolic activity of your gut trying to empty your stomach which may affect your ability to sleep. A light carbohydrate or protein snack before bed could help you stay asleep for longer by regulating blood sugar and preventing wakefulness due to hunger. For example, having a glass of milk, eating a banana or an oatcake with peanut butter.
  • Limit alcohol. Drinking alcohol may help you to fall asleep initially but it disrupts sleep patterns and may have a negative impact on the quality of your sleep. This is because alcohol interrupts your natural circadian rhythms, blocks REM sleep and may cause waking to empty your bladder more frequently.

Aids for menopause insomnia

Strategies to Help You Sleep

  • Create a night time routine so you have a regular wind down to sleep. This helps your body to anticipate sleep and for your brain to associate certain activities with sleep. It can be as simple as listening to soothing music, reading a chapter of a book or doing some gentle stretches.
  • Try to keep your bedroom uncluttered and as the place for rest, relaxation and sleep.
  • Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet. Black out blinds or curtains will reduce visual stimulation.
  • Take a warm or tepid shower (or bath) before bed, as the fall in temperature afterwards helps with the onset of sleep. If you make this part of your routine then your body and mind will associate going to sleep with this practice.
  • Lower your stress levels by not bringing your laptop or work papers into the bedroom. Limit or better still do not watch television in your bedroom.
  • Subtle scents can help induce sleep and can be in the form of a pillow mist spray or in a diffusor. One scent is lavender known for its calming qualities.
  • Mindful breathing or progressive muscle relaxation can help to induce sleep.
  • Wear light cotton, breathable clothing or sleep naked with light cotton bed sheets.

Sleep is a very important daily event, and getting it right is vital for your overall health and wellbeing during menopause

If you find yourself lying awake and unable to sleep or return to sleep then it may help if you get up and go to another room. Although it may seem counter intuitive, doing a quiet activity such as reading for about twenty minutes and having a glass of water or a small snack will help to reset your mind and body. When you return to your bedroom your mind and body will associate your bed with sleeping, rather than lying there awake. Repeat this process until you naturally fall asleep. This will help to train your mind/body to return to its natural circadian rhythm.

If you have enjoyed reading this article and would like further information about combating insomnia during midlife and menopause then please fill out the contact form and I will be in touch.

It is important to note that insomnia may be caused by other health issues. If it is causing you distress then please visit your doctor for medical advice.