We already know that a poor night’s sleep can have a huge impact on all different areas of your health. It can affect your immune system, making you more prone to colds, infections and allergies. It can affect your emotional wellbeing too: if you don’t sleep well, you’re going to be cranky and miserable and maybe even feel depressed the next day. It can cause fatigue, and we all know that menopause itself can drain us of our energy. Compound that with poor sleep and it can very often feel that you’re running on empty for weeks, if not months. Poor sleep can also affect your perception of pain, making it feel worse. That can be quite a problem, especially if your menopause symptoms include joint aches and pains.
Why does this happen?
Why are women more prone to having sleep problems during menopause? There can be a whole range of reasons, but one of the main ones is dropping estrogen levels. For some reason, declining estrogen interferes with your ability to stay asleep. During the night, you have periods of what we call REM sleep, which is when you sleep deeply and dream, and periods of lighter sleep; you alternate between these kinds of sleep, like a repeating wave pattern. But during menopause, when you move from REM sleep to lighter sleep, instead of staying asleep you wake up. And once you’re awake, it’s not easy to get back to sleep. So that factor alone is enough to have you waking up and falling asleep several times a night, which over time can affect your overall wellbeing.
Many things we do every day can also affect our sleep. Maybe you suffer from night sweats, a huge problem that can wake you up several times a night. And if you’re like many women, you end up so soaked that you have to get up and change pyjamas, which wakes you up and makes it hard or impossible to get back to sleep.
Food and drink
What you eat and drink in the evening can have a profound effect on how you sleep. Sugary things, even an afternoon cup of coffee with sugar in it, is enough to disrupt your sleep that night. Then there’s low blood sugar levels, a big problem during menopause. A lot of women find that they are far more sensitive to blood sugar swings. If your blood sugar dips too low during the night, it can trigger a panic attack, which can wake you up. And very often, it can trigger hot flashes, night sweats and even heart palpitations, any of which can make getting back to sleep a real challenge.
Your liver can also be a problem. I recently discussed the importance of looking after your liver. If you wake up just about every night between one and three o’clock in the morning, your liver is likely being overworked. Another common problem during menopause is having an irritated bladder. A lot of women find that they can’t make it through the night without having to get up to pee, not just once but two or three times in some people. This is another case where you end up wide awake and unable to get back to sleep easily, especially if you turn on the lights.
Dehydration is also a problem. If you get hot flashes during the day and don’t drink enough, you’ll end up going to bed dehydrated. If you then have night sweats, you’ll be further dehydrated, and like low blood sugar levels, dehydration can trigger the nervous system, which can lead to even more night sweats and palpitations too.
Anxiety and worry
As if all that weren’t already enough, there’s anxiety and worry. Many menopausal women experience a great deal of anxiety and they worry about absolutely everything. For you, it can mean going to bed at night and, instead of relaxing, you’re thinking, “Oh no, I forgot to do such and such today; I have to do that tomorrow.” Or, “Oh, there’s that big thing going on next week.” Basically, you’re in a state of mental anxiety and mental worry, and as you fall asleep, that worry doesn’t get resolved. So behind the scenes at night when you’re sleeping, like a computer that’s backing up, a little part of your brain is whirring away the whole time, which can keep you from having a restful night. But the minute you wake up, like a computer coming out of sleep mode, you start thinking where you left off when you went to sleep, and before you’re even out of bed, you’re anxious and worrying, a state that lasts all day long.
What can you do to get a really good night’s sleep?
Before reaching for some sleeping pills, there are loads of things you can try. Consider herbs. If you get a lot of hot flashes or sweats during the night, sage can be really effective and very often works quickly. Taking a magnesium supplement with your evening meal can very often calm your nervous system. Herbs such as valerian and hops can also help, and A.Vogel’s Deep Sleep sleep remedy is useful when anxiety is causing sleep issues.
Careful what you eat for supper! Avoid foods high in sugar and carbohydrates because they can cause blood sugar levels to spike, which can dehydrate you and aggravate things. And always watch what you drink: avoid caffeine-laden drinks like coffee and tea, as well as soft drinks and alcohol, which will all keep you awake. Instead, try herbal teas such as Rooibos or chamomile, the latter being especially good for calming the nerves.
If you’re dehydrated, it’s really important to have a little water before going to bed. Ideally, just a shot glass of warm water is enough. That will do two things: it will keep you hydrated during the night, especially if you’re getting night sweats, and help with the irritated bladder issue I mentioned. That’s because being dehydrated makes your urine highly concentrated and acidic, which irritates your bladder and wakes you up. So having just a little drink of water before bed is oftentimes enough to avoid that particular problem.
A lot of people ask me why it has to be warm water. It’s simple: drinking cold water shocks your digestive system and prevents you from getting off to sleep. Another really important thing is to keep electronics out of your bedroom. I’m always amazed at how some people watch TV in bed, switch off the TV and then wonder why they can’t fall asleep. Rather than relaxing you, electronic devices get your brain all wired up.
Try to develop a healthy bedtime routine. An hour before you think you’re ready for bed, switch the TV off and maybe put on some relaxing music. Whatever you do, do not start texting friends or surfing the web. Turn off all your electronics and pick up a good, relaxing book instead—no horror stories!
Also consider doing some relaxation exercises to get yourself in the right mindset for sleep. Some people find a nice warm bath with lavender oil to be really soothing. Take the time to find a bedrime routine that works for you. If you start worrying about things the moment you get into bed, lie on your back, hands by your sides, and take some really slow deep breaths. You’ll start to feel your muscles relaxing, and very often just doing this for five minutes will relax you enough to help you fall asleep.