The classic signs of sleep disturbance are all there: you’re staring into the abyss of the ceiling and it feels like torture. Thoughts are whirling at super-speed and you’re hyper-aware that you’re counting down the hours until your alarm goes off.
Where’s your fast-pass to dreamland? It’s. Just. Not. Fair.
Disturbed sleep and insomnia is common in women entering the perimenopause, as oestrogen levels drop to new-found lows. Oestrogen actually helps us sleep better, allowing our bodies to better use serotonin and other neurochemicals that help us sleep.
If you’re also stressing about things before bed, your brain secretes fight-or-flight response chemicals – not exactly the neuro-equivalent of Horlicks.
TOP TIPS FOR YOU
Can you remember the last time you got into bed, fell asleep and stayed asleep?
The following tips are designed to help you break out of the cycle of sleep problems and into dreamland. Blissful sleep, here we come.
AVOID CAFFEINE FROM EARLY AFTERNOON
While caffeine may seem like a non-negotiable if you’re struggling to sleep at night (and therefore just want to sleep all day), all it’s doing is giving you a little adrenaline rush which will eventually wear off, leaving you feeling worse.
It also increases cortisol levels – better known as the ‘stress hormone’. If anxious thoughts are keeping you awake at night, literally pumping yourself full of stress isn’t going to give you that long-for peaceful night’s rest.
Kick the caffeinated drinks in the early afternoon, and switch to chamomile tea before bed for better sleep quality.
REVAMP YOUR SLEEP SET-UP
Can’t remember when you last changed your mattress? And what about your bedding? A bad workman blames his tools, but in this case, he may be on to something.
You should ideally change your mattress once every 10 years at least. Make sure you test new ones out before you commit too – they’re not a small investment.
Why not treat yourself to some new bed linen too? Silk is recommended by dermatologists, and many women swear sleeping on it reduces wrinkles – and everyone will think you’re fancy. Alternatively, you could look at bamboo or sustainable cotton sets, as these may help keep you cool.
PRACTICE BREATHING & MEDITATION
Breathing is probably one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal for relaxing into a blissful sleep and defeating menopause insomnia.
A simple exercise is to take a deep breath in through your nose while counting slowly to five, then release it through your mouth, counting back down to one. Repeat this three or four times.
EAT EARLIER IN THE EVENING
If you grew up in a household where your evening meal was served promptly at 5.30pm every day, it may be time to take a trip down memory lane.
Eating late can lead to disrupted sleep. Some studies have also suggested those who eat later tend to eat more, which won’t help if you’re struggling with symptoms like weight gain.
GET YOUR SLEEP ROUTINE IN ORDER
Making sure you set yourself up for a quality night’s sleep is vital if you’re struggling with insomnia. If you can, take a warm bath before bed as the big drop in body temperature when you get out will help you drift off and fall asleep more easily. Avoid screens at least a couple of hours before your set bedtime as the blue light they emit tricks your brain into thinking it’s daytime.
Natural remedies like valerian can also help make for a more restful night. If you’re suffering from night sweats, we have more tailored advice to help you.
CONSIDER A MELATONIN SUPPLEMENT
If you’ve tried some of the above lifestyle remedies and haven’t had the success you were hoping for, you may want to think about taking a melatonin supplement.
Melatonin is a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and can be taken (depending on your overall health) for between one and four weeks to help with insomnia.
You can purchase it over the counter or from some of these suppliers, but it can have some pretty unpleasant side-effects which is why we recommend checking in with your GP first.
You might also want to take a look at Valerian as a herbal treatment for sleep disorders.
TOP TIPS FOR OTHERS
When someone’s suffering from sleep disturbances and not getting the rest they need, it can wreak havoc on all aspects of their life – from work to relationships. Here’s how you can be a supportive partner, friend or colleague during these trying times.
OUR ADVICE TO HER
Our recommendations for better sleep quality include avoiding stimulants like caffeine from early afternoon and heavy meals before bed that’ll make it harder for her body to shut down.
She could also invest in a new mattress or comfier, cooler cotton bedding if her sleep kit needs updating. Her nightly routine might need some attention too.
More info on all of these top tips is on the ‘For her’ section of this page. Take a look.
BE A CONSIDERATE BED PARTNER
If you share a bed with someone who’s having trouble sleeping/night sweats, we get it – it’s annoying for you. But honestly, it’s more annoying for them, because they know you’re laying there not dealing with this nonsense.
Talk about using two separate single duvets or even different beds if disruptions during the night are causing arguments during the day. Whatever you do, make sure it’s right for your relationship, and that you’re in 100% agreement.
ASK THEM WHAT WILL HELP
Ask her exactly what you could do to help. Can you do more around the house if you live together? Could you cancel on a couple of commitments to ease social pressure? Would she like you to run her a bath or even just make her a cup of tea – but only if that’s what she wants.
Ask, rather than assume. If you do the latter you may well find it has the opposite effect to the one you’d like.
Regular exercise is a key tool for managing insomnia during the perimenopause and menopause.
Combining something you want to do (spend time together) along with something you need to do (exercise) can be a real game changer.
Partnering up to go for a walk, swim or to the gym is also more likely to help you both stay motivated.
CREATE BREATHING SPACE
No, we’re not saying leave her alone. We mean actually breathe together.
Slow, deep breaths initiate the parasympathetic nervous system, which has a calming effect and can help you sleep. Taking time together to practice and improve your breathing means you’re more likely to keep up with it.
SUGGEST A SUPPLEMENT
Some women find melatonin supplements help them get a better night’s rest.
Why not gently ask if she’s tried anything like that? Let her know she can find loads of reputable suppliers over on our nutrition page.
It can have pretty unpleasant side-effects for some, so remind her to speak to her doctor about taking it first.