Disrupted sleep is one of the most debilitating issues facing us women as we approach the menopause.
Many effects of a lack of sleep, such as feeling grumpy and not working at your best, are well known. But did you know that sleep deprivation can also have profound consequences on your physical health? Regular poor sleep puts you at risk of serious medical conditions, including obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It’s now clear that a solid night’s sleep is essential for a long and healthy life.
I’ve always had periods of time in my life where sleep has become an issue. As I approached my 40’s it started to become an issue again and I was determined to tackle this before it became a problem.This article shows you why tackling your sleep issues could be the answer to many of your menopause symptoms. We also share lots of tips of things you can try to resolve your sleep issues and massively improve how you’re feeling.
Why is sleep such an issue as we approach the menopause?
As our hormones oestrogen and progesterone change they can have a huge impact on our sleep patterns.
Oestrogen is known to increase REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. This is the mental restorative phase of sleep and is most likely to occur during the last 3rd of our sleep. So, if you are waking in the early hours, you are likely to be missing this important part of your sleep.
Progesterone helps you to fall asleep so if your progesterone is low, this could explain issues you may have getting to sleep initially. On the other hand, too much progesterone (in relation to oestrogen) can leave you feeling fatigued and cause you to sleep too much.
How much sleep do we need?
Most of us need around eight hours of good-quality sleep a night to function properly – but some need more and some less. What matters is that you find out how much you need and then try to achieve it. As a general rule, if you wake up tired and spend the day longing for a chance to have a nap, it’s likely that you’re not getting enough sleep.
A variety of factors can cause poor sleep, including low progesterone, night sweats, everyday stress, noise and one of the main issues is poor sleep routines.
What happens if I don’t sleep?
Everyone’s experienced the fatigue, short temper and lack of focus that often follow a poor night’s sleep. An occasional night without sleep makes you feel tired and irritable the next day, but it won’t harm your health. After several sleepless nights, the mental effects become more serious. Your brain will fog, making it difficult to concentrate and make decisions. Disrupted sleep also affects your hormones that affect your appetite. This can lead to poor food choices and continued weight gain.
Here are some ways in which a good night’s sleep can boost your health:
Sleep boosts immunity:
If you seem to catch every cold and flu that’s going around, your bedtime could be to blame. Prolonged lack of sleep can disrupt your immune system, so you’re less able to fight off bugs.
Sleep can help maintain a healthy weight:
Sleeping less may mean you put on weight! Studies have shown that people who sleep less than seven hours a day tend to gain more weight and have a higher risk of becoming obese than those who get seven hours or more.
How does a lack of sleep cause weight gain?
- You may be too tired to exercise so you are not burning any additional calories
- You may eat more as you are awake for longer
- It disrupts the balance of key hormones that control your appetite. It’s believed that sleep-deprived people have reduced levels of leptin (the chemical that makes you feel full) and increased levels of ghrelin (the hunger-stimulating hormone).
- Lack of sleep impairs glucose tolerance (the ability of the body to metabolise ingested glucose and return to baseline levels). This can lead to eating excess calories and increases your risk of diabetes and heart disease.
- Your body produces more cortisol (your stress hormone), which can lead to weight gain, especially around the belly
For more information on how your hormones affect you during the menopause read my blog: Is it me or is it my hormones?
Sleep boosts mental wellbeing:
Given that a single sleepless night can make you irritable and moody the following day, it’s not surprising that chronic sleep debt may lead to long-term mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. When people with anxiety or depression were surveyed to calculate their sleeping habits, it turned out that most of them slept for less than six hours a night.
Sleep prevents diabetes:
Studies have suggested that people who usually sleep less than five hours a night have an increased risk of having or developing diabetes. It seems that missing out on deep sleep may lead to type 2 by changing the way the body processes glucose – the high-energy carbohydrate that cells use for fuel.
Sleep wards off heart disease:
Long-standing sleep deprivation seems to be associated with increased heart rate, an increase in blood pressure and higher levels of certain chemicals linked with inflammation, which may put extra strain on your heart.
Scientific research shows that sleep deprivation can have a huge impact on our bodies.
Sleep is the best thing you can do for your body. This should be your number one priority if you want to feel strong and healthy.
So, we now know how important sleep is but how do we actually get some sleep. Below are some key tips and you can also try our free 10 day sleep challenge to really focus on your improving your sleep habits that will leave you waking up and feeling ready to tackle the day ahead.
Tips for getting a good night’s sleep
Why are you struggling to sleep?
Establish the main reasons why you are struggling to sleep. Once you’ve identified issues, is there anything you can change?
Earplugs can work wonders if noise is an issue. The soft foam ones are great and only a £3/£4 on amazon.
- Ensure your room is dark – darkness allows the body to produce melatonin which is the hormone that regulates sleep
- Keep the room comfortably cool
Restrict caffeine – this needs to be specific to you – think about the quantity and timing. Also check where caffeine may be hidden.
- Firstly, consume as normal and log the amount and times of day
- After a week, start to reduce the amount by 1/2 – 1 cup per day and reduce from your evening consumption first
- 1 week later, reduce by another 1/2 – 1 cup per day for a week
- Monitor the affects – you should be consuming no more than 2-3 cups per day but it’s about what feels good for you
Avoid alcohol. I know it’s tempting when you’re struggling to wind down but alcohol to get to the sleep is not a long-term answer. Yes it can make you feel sleepy initially but it prevents you from reaching REM, that mental restorative part of sleep. Alcohol dehydrates you and suppresses the production of serotonin (our sleep inducing hormone). It also often wakes us up in the middle of the night.
As discussed in “Eating Your Way Through the Menopause”, hydration and water consumption is so important for our bodies, however we need to ensure we spread our consumption throughout the day. Stop drinking large amounts of liquid 2 hours before bed. In this last 2 hours before bed, small sips are much better so you are not getting up to the loo several times a night.
- Enjoy a relaxing bath before bed, it will help you feel clean and relaxed and give you time to wind down before you sleep
- Keep a bedside notebook – write down your to-do list or spend time journaling each day. This is also a great tool to use if you wake up in the night worried about something. Write it down and then relax and go back to sleep
Avoid blue rays from technology in the 2 hours before bed. This interrupts the circadian clock and our relaxation levels. This affects how deeply we sleep and how rested we feel. Ideally switch all digital devices off 2 hours before bed and read a book. If you feel you need to use technology before bed, change your settings on your device to reduce blue light. This is a great article explaining how to do this https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/how-to-use-a-blue-light-filter-on-pc-mac/ or you can buy amber glasses to absorb about 98%. Again these are available from Amazon for around £20-£50.
Taking a magnesium supplement before bed can help you to relax as it helps to increase the natural levels of melatonin. This is your hormone that is needed to control your sleep and waking cycles. Studies have shown that up to 50% of us are likely to be deficient in magnesium. These deficiencies can be driven by our diet, alcohol, salt, caffeine, prolonged/intense stress, dieting and antibiotics. It’s best to take a Magnesium malate, citrate or glycinate as these are gentle on the stomach and beneficial for sleep, (especially when taken just before bed). I would avoid magnesium carbonate, sulfate, gluconate or oxide as they are the cheapest and are poorly absorbed by your body. They can also cause diarrhoea. I like Phil Richards Magnesium Relax or Nature’s sunshine but there are many other similar products on the market. Magnesium (80 mg magnesium, 350 mg malic acid)
Weight gain, low bone density, fatigue, joint pain, sleep problems and depression can all be symptoms of vitamin D deficiency. Around 50% of us are deficient in vitamin D. This is such an important vitamin at this time in our lives. I use Nature’s Sunshine but again there are many other similar products on the market Vitamin D3 (60) (100mcgs)
Eat carbs with your evening meal – yes you read that correctly! A 2011 study showed that eating carbs in the evening was more conducive to a good night’s sleep and long term weight loss. Your know that heavy, lethargic feeling you get after eating a carb-based meal. It increases serotonin, inducing sleep, improving your mood, managing your appetite and aiding digestion. You still need to avoid eating too many or the wrong time of carbs over the day but balancing this into your evening meal can have a really positive impact.
Exercising every day has a hugely positive impact on your sleep. Now, if you’re struggling to sleep and feeling exhausted you don’t need to force yourself into a hard-core high intensity exercise session. Even as much as ensuring you walk every day can have a huge impact on your sleep. For more advice on exercise check out “Moving Your Way Through the Menopause”.
Meditation and Relaxation
This is a personal preference and I found this really hard when I first started using meditation and relaxation techniques. However, I find these now help me in so many aspects of my life. They have had a hugely positive impact on my sleep. Find out more in “Thinking Your Way Through the Menopause.”
Where to get more help …
If you’ve got any questions please come and ask it in our Facebook group or join one of my weekly Q&A’s.