From my clinical experience, many ladies in their 30's and 40's struggle with poor sleep. This could mean so many things for example, you may be able to get to sleep easily but then wake up or are restless through the nights, or you may find it difficult to shut that brain down and get to sleep.
Symptoms during these years and the years leading up to menopause can sometimes make getting old difficult to embrace. While it’s not a given that you’ll experience them, The desire for better sleep very common!
Sleep problems affect about 40 to 50% of women, and can be quite debilitating to the point of insomnia for women in their perimenopausal years.
Even women who have slept well their whole lives sometimes find themselves having disrupted sleep starting at some time in their mid-to-late 40s, often an early sign of perimenopause. Typically women wake up in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep, sometimes just wide awake, sometimes troubled by worrisome thoughts, sometimes woken by night sweats and hot flashes.
But just because our hormones might make it more challenging, it doesn’t mean our need for sleep is any less. Poor sleep can make everything else feel miserable as well. Sleep is critical to your mood and mind and lack of sleep aggravates many other symptoms that are common in menopause like stress, memory loss, depression, and other physical discomforts.
So rather than resigning to potentially years of suffering with disrupted sleep, let me share some of my go-to strategies for getting good night of sleep.
What Causes Sleep Problems in Menopause?
We may not think of this, but in actual fact it's the hormonal changes in perimenopause are largely responsible for wreaking havoc on your sleep.
Both estrogen and progesterone have a role in sleep, and declining levels in menopause can cause sleep disturbances. Lower estrogen levels are also responsible for other common menopausal symptoms including irritating and uncomfortable hot flashes and night sweats that can also make sleep miserable as well as anxiety and depression that lead to difficulty falling asleep and frequent night waking.
On top of that, melatonin naturally decreases with age (notice that your grandparents wake up really early?) and because it’s produced from serotonin, whose production is dependent on adequate estrogen levels, the lower estrogen state can also lower melatonin levels. Stress further depletes melatonin and as we get older we feel stress more as our 'stress tolerance' reduces.
So what didn't bother us 20 years ago may really bother us now. A good example of this is in a work situation, we may stress out now more than when we were doing the same thing years ago.
What Does Poor Sleep Do To Our Health?
Aside from feeling miserable, and we have more craving for sugar, carbs and more coffee, not getting enough sleep is actually a contributor to a number of symptoms such as....
Insomnia is associated with:
Decreased sense of well-being and quality of life
Increased anxiety and depression
Higher systolic blood pressure
Cognitive issues including forgetfulness, decreased focus and memory
Note that Stress, alcohol and prescription medications can all cause sleep problems and just about everyone has all three going on!
Underlying medical issues including chronic pain, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, restless leg syndrome, reflux, thyroid problems, arthritis, sleep apnea, congestive heart failure, and more, can also cause or contribute to insomnia.
What Can We Do Naturally To Help Ourselves?
There are gentle approaches we can take to support your body and symptoms in this transition with herbs, supplements, and lifestyle approaches and I would always recommend you take a natural approach first before a medication. Sleep is one of those areas that we can make a world of difference in if we simply start to pay attention and support our environment.
Lifestyle Support for Better Sleep
While you know I love my herbs, lifestyle approaches for sleep especially shine when it comes to reclaiming the rest you so desperately need and deserve. In fact, sometimes all you need is a commitment to making sleep a priority by optimizing your lifestyle.
Here's a few things you can try to really emphasize when it comes to sleep problems in menopause:
Start an Evening Ritual
You could be a go-go-go person, then crash into sleep the moment your head hit the pillow. For most of us, that’s not the case, even prior to perimenopause. But if you haven’t had to make a wind-down ritual part of your evening routine, now’s the time!
Good sleep actually starts in the hours before bed. You have to make it a priority, not just some nights, but truly making it a daily lifestyle ritual.
Simple things like turning the lights down low as early as possible after dinner at night for example. I recommend turning all overhead lighting off and having a small lamp on instead. Any fluro lighting or bright LED lighting should be avoided at all costs avoid turning the light on when you go to the bathroom as this upsets your body clock. A small torch is a much better option. This helps you to make more melatonin earlier!
Making time for self-care like a soothing bath, keeping a sleep journal to write your worries away, and staying off devices at least one hour before bed (seriously!) can make a world of difference.
Drink Kombucha Instead of Alcohol
I know that perimenopause sometimes comes with a self-prescribed dose of white wine or 3! but there’s no getting around it – alcohol can be horrendous for sleep no matter what 'new study' they claim in the nightly news how alcohol may be good for us!
Even a modest amount up to an hour before bedtime can reduce melatonin production by nearly 20% and it’s probably the biggest trigger of hot flashes there is. Not to mention it can make you feel anxious and depressed and is a breast cancer risk factor.
Swapping your evening glass of wine for a Kombucha is one of the quickest and most effective sleep fixes I know – and it only takes overcoming the mental hurdle of letting it go.
Work On Getting Your Gut Working Well
The state of your gut health will affect your sleep. How many times have you slept poorly after a night of greasy takeaway, or you've noticed you slept so well on a lovely clean meal of fish and steamed vegetables?
Therefore it's vital we have our gut functioning as best we can, by feeding it with prebiotics, healing it with known gut healing herbs, giving it the food that agrees with it, and guarding the health of our gut from known gut harms such as medication, toxins, stress, bad foods or food that we are personally intolerant to e.g. gluten.
Check out my all-in-one Gut Powder, which you can easily take at night before bed, to assist in healing your gut while you sleep!
Plan Ahead If You Find You Get Hot or Sweat
Keep your bedroom temperature no higher than 21 degrees C at night – it’s the ideal sleeping temperature that encourages the best sleep for most of us. Also wear only light cotton sleepwear, and have light cotton blankets you can kick off or drape over you easily as your temperature varies through the night (a feather doona is terrible for heating you up) and causing hot flashes and night sweats.
Herbs and Supplements for Better Sleep
Several herbs and supplements have been shown to be supportive of good sleep – without the risks of pharmaceuticals.
Kava, Lemon Balm, and Passionflower
Kava has long been used by herbalists for sleep, and where it seems to really shine is for women with perimenopausal insomnia, with improvements in sleep quality sometimes immediate, and more significant after 4 weeks of use.
L-Theanine (My Favourite!) is a wonderful relaxant for sleep and anxiety during the day which does not make you drowsy. Green tea is high in L-Theanine, but you would need to drink 12 cups of green tea to get the same affect as two capsules.
Lemon balm, another traditional herb for sleep as well as anxiety, or combined with passionflower and hops, also classic sleep herbs.
Passionflower promotes sleep and improves sleep quality, and helps you feel more rested when you wake; also useful for anxiety.
How to use it: Lemon balm 80 mg daily, Passionflower 320 mg daily. If using tinctures, use 40 to 60 drops of any or all of these, instead. Kava 10ml liquid herbal in half glass of water. L Theanine 2 capsules upon bedtime.
Try My Favourite Herbal Tea Blend
Sip this lovely tea an hour before bedtime to help you relax. Mix 1 teaspoon each of these dried herbs: chamomile flowers, lavender flowers, and a lemon balm leaf.
Steep in 1 cup boiling water for as long as it takes to cool down to drinkable warm, covered; strain and drink. (Really important that you cover with a lid or something, so that you don't lose all those important essential oils.
Or, if waking up at night to pee is an issue – skip the tea which might only add to that and try this instead to have the following tea herbs in a tincture (herbal blend in small amount.)
Take 1/2 teaspoon every 30 minutes for 2 hours before bed. If necessary, repeat 1-2 doses if you wake during the night.
Caution: This should not be taken with prescription or sleep medications (but note those medications actually don’t give people more than 30 minutes of sleep and can be dangerous especially for women).
So please don't give up on getting a great nights sleep every night, it will make a huge difference to your overall health and well being and ultimately great sleep makes for a happier human!