How to get more sleep. This question has plagued me for the past 4 years, since I was plunged into menopause as a result of breast cancer treatment. And finding an answer has driven me mad.
I was a textbook sleeper before the big C. I went to sleep pretty much when my head hit the pillow and woke bright eyed and bushy tailed 8 hours later. Rested. Fresh. Recovered.
Ahhhh, the memories! In all transparency, I’m yet to return to that blissful sleep state, but, I do feel like I’m getting closer and closer.
As someone heavily invested in the fitness and health and wellness industries, I know exactly how important it is, and all the steps recommended ad nauseum to improve sleep hygiene, efficiency, consistency and quality. But I’m here to tell you that, even if you follow all of these steps (I like this article from the Sleep Foundation for Healthy Sleep Tips), if you’re perimenopausal, menopausal or even postmenopause, you’re likely going to need a little more help.
Let’s start with why sleep is so important.
Sleep is essential for keeping your brain and body healthy and in tip top condition, your immune and nervous system supported and allows you to be alert, to concentrate and to think clearly during your waking hours. This article Why Do We Need Sleep goes into a lot more detail.
During the night, your body cycles through 4 stages of sleep.
Light – the physiological process that transitions you to deep sleep. During light sleep your body will remain responsive to your environment, such as noise, light, smells etc.
Slow Wave (Deep Sleep) – during this stage your muscles repair and grow, with your body producing 95% of its daily supply of growth hormones.
REM – the stage where your brain recovers, this is when ideas, experiences and skills that you acquired during the day are laid down as memories.
Wake – we naturally wake for brief periods many times during the night, sometimes these are referred to as ‘arousals’ or ‘disturbances’ and if you wear a sleep tracker you will have noticed that it’s normal to experience 10-20 of these periods each night.
Most adults need between 7-9 hours sleep per night. Children and Teens, substantially more.
So now that’s sorted, let’s look at what happens during menopause.
In this information sheet from the Australian Menopause Society, they state that “Many women complain of disturbed sleep during the peri-menopause and after menopause. Complaints about poor sleep include difficulty falling and staying asleep, coupled with early morning and nocturnal awakenings.”
Contributing factors are listed as:
- Changing hormone levels
- Hot sweats and flushes
- Abnormalities of the circadian rhythm
- Lifestyle factors (such caffeine, alcohol, snoring partner etc)
- Insomnia (25% of women between 50-64 experience insomnia)
Perimenopause is the period when your ovaries start to gradually decrease production of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone, this period may last for 7-10 years, with many women not realising they have entered this phase of life.
Menopause occurs when your ovaries have stopped producing oestrogen and progesterone. With both of these hormones involved in many important bodily processes, including sleep, you can see how changing hormone levels can wreak havoc on your sleep quality, efficiency and consistency.
I really love this article, if you are interested in reading some more detailed information on Menopause and Sleep.
So with all of the science out of the way, what can you do to get more sleep?
Instead of reinventing the wheel, below I’ve shared the top tips from the Sleep Foundation.
However it is also important to consult your doctor or preferred health practitioner if you are experiencing issues that you think could be related to menopause. They will recommend any appropriate treatments and tests based on your personal medical and health history.
- Maintain a healthy weight and diet. Higher body weights are associated with Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), and women tend to gain weight after menopause. Avoid large meals, and spicy or acidic foods before bed time, as they may trigger hot flashes.
- Avoid nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, especially in the late afternoon and early evening. These substances can disrupt sleep and lower your sleep quality.
- Use the bathroom before going to bed to avoid waking up early or in the middle of the night. Try to stop drinking all liquids a few hours before bedtime.
- Reduce stress as much as possible. Anxious and stressful thoughts can keep you up at night, making it harder to fall asleep. Regular massage, exercise, and yoga can help lower your stress levels. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, talk to a behavioral health professional.
- Develop a bedtime routine that cools you down and lowers your stress. Take a bath, listen to music, or read. Try some relaxation techniques, such as meditation or deep breathing.
- Develop a routine for falling back asleep if you wake up from a night sweat. Aim to stay in bed with the lights off, and avoid doing anything that will wake you up further, like watching TV. Keep a change of clothes on your nightstand, or a glass of cool water to drink.
- Dress in lightweight pajamas to stay cool at night, or sleep naked. Likewise, swap out your bedding for cooler fabrics made from natural fibers like cotton.
- Keep your bedroom temperature comfortably cool. Keep the air conditioning on at night or place a fan next to your bed to further cool the air and increase circulation.
- Follow a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day. Avoid napping during the day, especially for longer than 20 minutes, as that can interfere with your ability to sleep at night.
Personally, I follow all of the above tips and also include the following.
- An evening dose of a high quality magnesium supplement – read more here.
- Daily exposure to unfiltered sunlight, particularly in the morning and at sunset, to promote the production of melatonin and to aid your circadian rhythm – read more here.
- I also wear a WHOOP biometric tracker that gives me very specific data each morning on my sleep activity allowing me to analyse and tweak my daily activities to promote improved sleep and recovery. This plays very strongly to my inner nerd. You can read more about WHOOP here.