One of the first casualties of the menopause years can be sleep. We have evolved to have periods of sleep during our daily cycle because it is essential to our survival. Our physical and mental systems are working hard while we are asleep carrying out maintenance jobs, recharging our energy batteries and making sense of our memories and experiences from the day.
We know a lot about the importance and benefits of sleep from what happens to people who don’t get enough of it such as shift workers. Regular, good quality sleep rejuvenates your body. It enhances your health: lowering your risk of heart problems, reducing your stress levels, reducing inflammation in your system, helping you to control your weight and reducing the risk of some cancers. Good sleep aids your memory, helping to clear brain fog. It gives you more energy and helps to lift your mood.
There are lots of reasons why we might start to experience poor sleep during perimenopause. Let’s start with the changes in our reproductive hormones. The decrease in the levels of estrogen and progesterone can give rise to night sweats, and if you have experienced those you know just how they can wake you up and leave you soaked and unable to get back to sleep.
Then there’s your hectic lifestyle in the years around your 40s and 50s. At home you may be juggling the needs of your partner, children and ageing parents, while at work you may be dealing with increased responsibility, changing processes and structures or other challenges.
All of this can lead to feelings of being stressed and unable to cope. In these circumstances your adrenal glands produce the hormones cortisol and adrenaline. High levels of cortisol and adrenaline can disrupt your sleep patterns, keeping you awake at night going over and over the things you are worried about.
And finally, there is the nutrition and other substances that you are putting into your body. Some foods disrupt sleep such as foods and drinks with a high sugar content, caffeine, and spicy foods. Alcohol may lull you off to sleep but you do not experience a natural sleep cycle. And it is full of sugar and empty calories. Smoking cigarettes releases stimulants into your system, affects your breathing and can contribute to insomnia.
Your sleep may also be affected by any medications that you are taking. Check the side-effects set out on the packaging.
So what can you do to improve your sleep?
- Firstly, keep a Sleep Journal for 7 days, making a note of the time you went to bed, the quality and quantity of your sleep, what you ate and drank in the evening and any activity you did in the evening (Including what you watched on TV or read). This will enable you to identify any patterns or triggers for poor sleep.
- Next, review your bedroom and create a sleep haven. Make sure that your bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. If you sleep with a snoring partner, wear ear plugs! Remove all unnecessary electronic devices from the bedroom. Yes, that includes your computer, tablet and mobile phone. They beep and flash and raise your level of alertness during the night. It is better not to have a TV in the bedroom. Watching the late night news or a thriller in bed at night will not promote good sleep.
- Think about your bed linen and equipment. Do you need to replace your mattress or pillows? Is your duvet the right weight for you? Is your bed linen made from natural fibres?
- Reduce your levels of stress during the day by using some basic time management techniques. Create a to-do list in the evening for the following day. Prioritise the tasks by deciding what is essential, what is important to do that day and what can be left for another day if you run out of time. Think about creating a ‘to-don’t’ list. What could you stop doing?
- Once you are in bed listen to a relaxation or meditation recording. Or you could do a relaxation breathing technique. The simplest technique is to spend three minutes breathing out for longer than you breathe in just by counting on the in and out breaths. Find your own comfortable count and focus your mind on the breath and the counting. This triggers your parasympathetic system which brings you back into balance and calm.
- Finally, remove or reduce from your diet any foods or drinks that you have identified that disrupt your sleep. You may enjoy your glass of red wine or bar of chocolate in the evening but weigh them up against the benefits of a good night’s sleep.
Sleep is the ‘wonder drug’ that can improve your health and extend your life. Make sure you are getting a regular dose!
Pat Duckworth is the award Winning Author of Hot Women, Cool Solutions; How to control menopause symptoms using mind/body techniques
For more menopause info check out her facebook page.