Sleep is vital, yet many of us crave more of it. Even just one night of disturbed sleep may impact on your ability to cope with stress, leaving you feeling lethargic, groggy, irritable and unable to think straight. However, many menopausal women experience sleep problems night after night, which may impact on their well-being and vitality. The body tends to repair cells during deep sleep, so quality as well as quantity of sleep is important.
The sleep connection
The menopause and sleep are poor bedfellows. Often problems may start suddenly, affecting women who’ve previously never had any problems sleeping. According to data collected from a national survey in 2014, 40% of postmenopausal women surveyed slept less than seven hours per night and 27% said they often had trouble falling asleep. On top of this, 50% said that they wake up feeling tired at least four times per week(1). This survey really helps to show just how impactful the menopause may be on a woman’s sleep pattern. Lack of sleep not only affects daytime energy, but it may also depress the mood and immune system, contribute to feelings of hunger and sugar cravings which could play a role in that all too familiar menopausal weight gain.
Sleep is controlled by a hormone called melatonin, which tells the brain it’s time to rest. Melatonin is produced from a neurotransmitter called serotonin. Sleep often goes haywire during the menopause because of fluctuating levels of female hormones. During the menopause oestrogen levels start to decline which may contribute to a drop in the quality of sleep. Progesterone is a calming hormone so when this hormone also starts to fall the anxiety and restlessness may start to creep in. Of course, if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you’re more likely to be stressed and anxious the next day, so it’s easy to get caught up in a stress-lack of sleep vicious cycle. Add to this being woken up by hot sweats and you’ve got a recipe for a poor sleep pattern.
Food facts for sleep support
The body utilises the amino acid L-tryptophan to produce serotonin and in turn, melatonin. This amino acid is found in eggs, salmon, spirulina, poultry, seeds and nuts. It’s also worth noting that bananas, kiwis and cherries provide a natural source of melatonin itself. Incorporating these foods into your evening meals is a good idea if you are starting to experience unsettled nights.
If blood sugar levels fall too low, then adrenaline may be released. If this happens at night, then the body could begin to stir or even wakeup. Having a snack before bed may help maintain blood sugar levels through the night. It’s also important to get adequate daily protein by eating foods such as fish, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds with meals and snacks to help support blood sugar balance. Avoid sweet foods which could spike blood sugar levels.
Another good nutrition tip is to restrict your alcohol, though it may make you fall asleep, you won’t sleep as deeply. Ditch caffeine, especially after lunchtime as caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands, which could be a disaster for sleep.
- Magnesium helps muscles to relax and supplementation of magnesium has been found in some studies to support restful sleep(2).
- The amino acid L-theanine, found in green tea, helps promote calmness and settle anxiety.
- Lemon balm, valerian, chamomile and passionflower have been traditionally used to help support sleep.
- Top six slumber lifestyle tips
- Don’t use screens from about two to three hours before bed.
- Yoga or meditation helps encourage relaxation before bedtime.
- A warm bath with Epsom salts or magnesium flakes may work wonders.
- Establish a healthy sleep routine. Turn in at the same time every night, even weekends, and aim to wake up at the same time every day.
- Get out in the daylight, especially before midday as this may help support serotonin production.
- Put a couple of drops of organic lavender essential oil into your evening bath to help ease you into the land of nod.
- These sleep-savvy lifestyle and nutrition suggestions are designed to help you through times of menopausal sleep issues.
- Behnood Abbasi et al, The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial. J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec; 17(12): 1161–1169.