When you’re journeying through menopause, sleep can suddenly become more challenging – just when we need to take extra care of ourselves. Hormonal changes and stress leave many menopausal women tossing and turning, creating a vicious circle of anxiety, irritability, and exhaustion.
Hormonal changes around menopause can greatly affect quality of sleep, and may take trial and error to establish an equilibrium. If menopause symptoms keep keeping you up, make an appointment to see your doctor. In the meantime, these lifestyle tweaks may help you get a better night’s sleep during peri menopause and menopause.
Get comfy, stay cool
If hot flashes or night sweats are keeping you up, focus on getting your hormones (particularly oestrogen and progesterone) in balance, by speaking to your physician. In the meantime, lowering the temperature in your bedroom can help. Opt for breathable, loose sleepwear in organic cotton or linen, and dress your bed – including pillows – in these natural fibres too. Before bed, consider taking a cool shower.
Eat for better sleep
In the immediate term, avoid going to bed on a full stomach, as this can cause gastric reflux. Ideally, eat your smallest meal at night and wait three hours before bed. In the longer term, high blood sugar is often associated with poor sleep as it causes cellular inflammation throughout the body and brain. A healthy diet based on a variety of plants may support better sleep, and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Take care with caffeine
Caffeine is cleared from the system more slowly in women than men. And if you’re sensitive to its effects, even one cup of coffee a day may disrupt your sleep at night. As well as its effects on your central nervous system, caffeine – especially in coffee – is a diuretic, and may wake you up in the night to go to the toilet. Consider testing this out by reducing your caffeine intake, to see whether this helps you sleep better.
Reduce your alcohol consumption
Alcohol disrupts the brain’s sleep mechanism. While it may relax you initially, it can also make it harder to stay asleep, and prevents the deep, restorative stages of sleep that you need. Alcohol may also trigger hot flashes for you. And the way you'll feel the next day will be less than ideal too. Swap the wine for relaxing herbal teas (look for blends that include chamomile, passion flower, valerian and/or lemon balm).
Work on relaxing
Whether it’s a result of hormonal changes or life stage, anxiety can be a big sleep disruptor during menopause. Rather than reaching for a glass or two of red to help you unwind, try relaxing exercise (see below) or an easy going read. If you’re not experiencing hot flashes, a warm bath is still a great option – especially with Epsom salts and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil.
Exercise in the morning
Regular exercise will help you get a good night’s sleep. But avoid high-intensity exercise within 3-6 hours of bedtime, as it boosts the metabolism and stimulates the central nervous system. Instead, try relaxing exercises like yin yoga, gentle stretches, and meditation.
Sleep in the dark
Even moonlight can disrupt sleep – particularly during menopause when sleep is being disturbed for other reasons. Apart from the light it emits, seeing the time on your alarm clock can cause anxiety if you’re struggling to sleep. And according to feng shui, mirrors increase a room’s energy flow – the opposite of what you want! So move or remove clocks and mirrors if you can. If light still finds its way in, you might want to try an eye pillow, dabbed with a little lavender essential oil.
Build a sleep ritual
First count backwards from your preferred wake up time to establish a bedtime that gives you enough sleep. Then try to stick to this every night, even on weekends, so your body clock can get in sync too. Changing out of regular clothes and into pyjamas an hour before sleep cues your body to bedtime.
Shut out the world
Avoid reading, listening to or watching anything disturbing or exciting before bedtime, like the evening news – as this can activate your sympathetic nervous system taking away the rest and rejuvenation functions of the parasympathetic nervous system offline. Even having a TV in your bedroom means you're only a switch away from all the worries and excitement of the world.
Quiet the ‘monkey mind’
Ironically, worrying about not sleeping is a really good way to stay awake! If you wake up because of hot flashes, don’t torture yourself by lying awake for more than 20 minutes – get up and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again. Quiet the ‘monkey mind’ chatter through meditation, or by writing down anything bothering you. Just before you nod off, send love and rest into your sleep with you. It's amazing what these techniques can do.