Menopause isn’t one-size-fits-all; while some women seem to sail through this life stage seemingly unaffected, for many, it brings with it a host of unwelcome symptoms and side-effects - which can include disrupted sleep.
Of course, countless things can cause sleep difficulties - many of them external, such as an uncomfortable mattress, noisy environment and even the temperature of the room - and sometimes medical conditions like sleep apnoea (where breathing is interrupted during sleep) might be involved, so it’s important to discuss sleep problems with your GP.
For women, hormonal fluctuations linked with menopause can impact sleep in a number of ways. “The menopause causes changes to our nervous system, and because of this imbalance, women experience menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, which can impact the quality of our sleep,” says Silentnight’s sleep expert Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, who has more than 25 years experience working with sleep, energy and health issues.
The good news is, there’s a lot we can do to help improve our sleep. “My advice - as someone who also falls into this age category and has in the last few years gone through at least three stressful life events - is to start placing value on your sleep,” says Dr Ramlakhan. “This means prioritise your sleep, and protect its quality.”
Here are Dr Ramlakhan’s eight top tips for prioritising and protecting sleep during menopause...
“My belief is that menopause is just another stage of life - like being a toddler or teenager - it comes with its trials and tribulations and we need to be mindful of the changes in our body, mind and spirit. This mindfulness will enable us to navigate the changes more gently so that we lessen the symptoms, particularly in relation to sleep. Complimentary therapies, like yoga, acupuncture and reflexology, can help with keeping the nervous system in balance, therefore easing some of the symptoms women experience.”
2. TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE
“Chinese herbs have been used to treat menopausal symptoms in Asian countries for centuries. Herbal medicines approach the root causes of the symptoms, rather than masking them, which makes for an easier transition for women going through the menopause.”
3. CLEAN LIVING
“Clean living and eating become even more important as you age. Minimising caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar intake is key. These foods are classed as ‘heating foods’ and contribute to the hot flushes you may experience when you reach ‘that age’ which can have a negative affect on sleep. It can take your body up to 10 hours to remove all traces of caffeine, even after just one cup of tea or coffee. If you’re having problems sleeping, increase fluid intake by drinking more water, herbal teas and diluted fruit juices. Alcohol’s the most commonly used sleep and relaxing aid in the world, as it initially has a sedative effect. However, alcohol stops you getting good, deep sleep, so the next day you feel not only physically tired but also mentally fuzzy. If you are regularly drinking alcohol to help you sleep, ask your doctor to help you find an alternative.”
4. PREPARE YOUR BODY FOR GOOD SLEEP
“Prepare yourself biochemically for good sleep, by eating breakfast within 30 minutes of rising - this creates the ideal internal chemistry for optimal sleep.”
5. LEARN HOW TO POWER NAP
“Allow yourself a quick power nap at some point between 2pm and 4pm - a short sleep lasting five to 15 minutes, when you will approach a near sleep state without actually falling asleep. You don’t have to get into bed; even spending a few minutes sitting quietly with eyes closed can increase mental energy and focus and help to de-excite the nervous system, which will help you sleep better later at night.”
6. GET ACTIVE
“Keep active during the day - it doesn’t have to be intense. Fast walking is a great form of exercise, especially if done in nature. Conversely, don’t over-exercise. There is a current trend towards older people competing in extreme sports such as marathons and triathlons - this can place huge stresses on the body, particularly if you’re not getting enough sleep.”
7. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
“Practice gratitude, kindness and forgiveness regularly. Studies show people who do this tend to have more robust immune systems, healthier hearts and they sleep better. These are skills we especially need to practice in our later years, when life can sometimes feel messy and overwhelming. You can also take time to cultivate your inner life - this could be journaling, meditation, tai chi, yoga, gardening or even fishing - something that enables you to bring stillness and calm, particularly if there’s a lot of stress going on.”
8. GENTLE SELF-CARE
“All of this adds up to being more gentle with ourselves when we go through this stage of life. Take time to nurture yourself - it can be hard when there are conflicting responsibilities of children growing up and elderly parents - but make small changes that enable you to get rest and nourish your body in the way it needs.”