I love sleeping. I’m generally in bed by 9pm (woohoo! Party animal!) and if I manage to read for 20 minutes before I conk out, I’m doing well. I’m generally a good sleeper – maybe too good – I’ve reportedly missed thunderstorms, phonecalls…but happily no home invasions!! (although, if they disturbed my sleep, they had better be good sprinters!)
But sleep is not just my personal pleasure – getting a good night’s sleep is linked to better brain and heart health, whereas the literature shows that disrupted or (the horrors!) decreased sleep quality or quantity is linked to chronic pain, weight gain, hormonally driven cancers like breast cancer and even premature death (!)…all of which generally increase at menopause. So reclaiming control of our sleep quality and quantity may not only extend the length of our life but expand our enjoyment of it!
In a recently published study by Roberts et al (2019) looking at the role of sleep in optimising athletic performance, the authors concluded that ‘…Sleep extension (more than 8 hours) for three nights led to better maintenance of endurance performance compared with normal or restricted sleep. Sleep restriction impaired performance. Cumulative sleep time affects performance by altering the perceived exertion of a given exercise intensity. Endurance athletes should sleep >8 hours per night’
A couple of takeaways here…
Generally, most of the perimenopausal women I know are endurance athletes, in all but name. Sandwiched between kids, parents, partner, work…these are busy times. But perimenopausal women are not always skilled or consistent at prioritising self care…
Unfortunately, at menopause, disrupted sleep is a big problem for many women…whether due to hot flashes and night sweats or stress, or jacked up cortisol levels or using alcohol as a nightly wind down…
You may have heard me talk about deprived sleep and sexual health at menopause when I interviewed Heather Jeffcoat (here’s the link)
So…what can we do about it?
Firstly: alcohol. Although a glass (or two) of wine may make us sleepy, it’s not a good quality sleep, and you’re more likely to wake up in the wee small hours, thirsty and restless…only to fall asleep approximately 17 minutes before your alarm goes off…which leads me to…
Coffee: Coffee and I are bff’s. I treasure that first cup of coffee in the morning…when nobody speaks to me until its at least halfway empty. However…some women may be more sensitive to coffee in the afternoon and evening, throwing blood sugar and cortisol levels into disarray, and sending the possibility of sleep away. It might be worth experimenting with restricting coffee intake to morning hours, maybe having noon as your cutoff. Remember though, coffee is an excellent bowel stimulant and has been shown to improve cognitive function (not just mine!) but…I have heard from many women that they become more sensitive to the jangly jittery effect of coffee as they traverse menopause, so swapping out for herbal teas may be a worthwhile experiment. Exercise: Trying some restorative yoga, or gentle stretching maybe in combination with some guided meditation/imagery may be a helpful way to start to create an evening ritual. A warm shower, about an hour before bed can help lower your core temperature which may also be helpful. Exercising outside in the morning may help re-set your circadian rhythms – this strategy can be helpful in re-setting your body clock. Speaking of bodyclocks – going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time each day, regardless of work vs weekends, home vs holidays…can really help steady the sleep ship.
For your evening meal, make sure there’s a good balance of healthy protein and fats along with some complex carbs – this can help keep your blood sugar stable and prevent insulin spikes/falls leading to an adrenaline rush that can wake you and trigger a hot flash.
Create a sleepy environment – ideally a cool dark bedroom works best. NASA did a study a couple of years ago looking at which houseplants worked best at improving air quality – spider plants, English ivy and aloe vera all made the list so these may be useful additions to the bedroom (phones, tablets, computers, televisions are not good additions to the bedroom – try and avoid blue light for two hours before bed…this is an area I really struggle with – my phone is generally attached to my left hand…but I am working on it!!)
I like to use a couple of drops of Lavender essential oil on my pillow – a study by Ozkaraman et al in 2018 looking at the use of lavender to reduce anxiety around chemotherapy, found that lavender caused a significant change in the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Pittsburgh Quality Sleep Index (PSQI)
Of course, if you’d like to take a deeper dive into all aspects of menopausal health, you may be interested in our 3rdAge Certification…and its on sale right now…just use the code SUMMER19 for a £50 discount
Until next time,
Onwards and upwards!
Reference: ‘ Extended Sleep Maintains Endurance Performance better than Normal or Restricted Sleep’ Spencer S Roberts;Wei-Peng Teo;Brad Aisbett;Stuart Warmington; Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Publish Ahead of Print():, JUNE 25, 2019