Menopause and sleep

menopause and sleep

Menopause plays havoc with your sleep. Like you didn’t already know, right?

Most menopausal women have known this for quite a while, but if you are aged 35 to say 45 or 50, and not yet in full blown menopause, you may not have noticed that your sleep quality has declined.

This period of life, called perimenopause, is when your hormone levels are gradually adjusting, and the changes are barely perceptible over the short term.

But then one day, you reflect back on how energetic you used to be when you were “younger” and realise that you are not as sprightly as you used to be. Could it be lack of good quality sleep?

Take this quick sleep test to find out if you’re getting the sleep you need.

  • Are you making mistakes at work? Maybe you are slower, not as sharp and with noticing little errors creeping in?
  • Do you feel annoyed more often? Perhaps a bit sharp or grumpy, with outbursts at times?
  • Do you need an alarm clock to wake you up in the morning? And do you need to put it on snooze for that extra 10 minutes when it does go off?
  • How do you feel when you wake up? Groggy, struggling to get out of bed?
  • How quickly do you fall asleep? Is it instant, or do you stare at the ceiling for what seems like forever?
  • How much do you sleep when you are on holiday? Do you sleep in every day, or do you reach a point where you wake up early without an alarm clock?

Anything sound familiar? If so then you are simply not getting enough quality sleep.

How much is enough?

The American National Sleep Foundation researched this and found that for adults aged 26-64yrs the optimum amount is 7-9 hours. In fact, research shows that if you only get six hours of quality sleep per night your mental performance is worse than if you had a blood alcohol level of 0.1%.

So that could explain the perpetual fogginess you may be experiencing.

Changing hormone levels

If you are menopausal or perimenopausal, lack of sleep will primarily be caused by your changing hormone levels. If it continues, the research shows that poor sleep has a cumulative effect leading to:

  • More viral and bacterial infections
  • Reduced attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning and problem solving
  • Impaired memory – memory consolidation happens during sleep
  • Lost sex drive – no surprise there – who feels like it when you are tired?
  • Aged skin – fine lines, saggy drooping and blotchy skin have been shown to accelerate from lack of sleep.
  • Increased belly fat due to changes in appetite hormones called ghrelin and leptin
  • Anxiety and depression – not surprising with all the above going on!
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure) – ditto
  • Stomach ulcers – double ditto
  • Cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health issues.

Wow – you probably want to stop reading, curl up and go to sleep! The good news is that this can quite easily be improved.

Read on to find out my five best tips for good quality sleep during menopause.

1. Include Magnesium in your diet

Many women are deficient in this important sleep nutrient, magnesium. The recommended daily intake (RDI) is about 300mg per day, yet most of us only consume about 200mg in our normal diet. Foods high in magnesium include;

  • kelp
  • wheat bran
  • wheat germ
  • almonds
  • cashews
  • buckwheat
  • brazil nuts
  • dulse
  • filberts
  • millet
  • pecans
  • walnuts
  • rye
  • tofu
  • soy beans
  • brown rice
  • figs, dates
  • collard greens
  • shrimp
  • avocado
  • parsley
  • beans
  • barley
  • dandelion greens
  • garlic
magnesium rich foods

If you do not have plenty of these foods in your diet then take a good quality magnesium supplement that gives at least 160mg of elemental magnesium. Some people may need up to 400mg or more. This should be in a chelated form (such as citrate, ascorbate, orotate, glycinate, or taurate and ideally a mix of these forms). Avoid carbonate, sulfate, gluconate and oxide salts, which are not absorbed very well. Also be aware that some sensitive people get diarrhoea from higher doses of the citrate form.

Take your magnesium supplement at night about 20 – 30 minutes before you go to sleep.

People with kidney disease or severe heart disease should take magnesium only under a doctor’s supervision.

2. Relax in a hot bath before bed.

Taking a hot bath with Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) is a good way to absorb and get much needed magnesium. A few drops of lavender essential oils in the bath will help calm, relax and soothe you before bed.

epsom salts bath

3. Have a night time routine

Preparing the mind for bed and sleep is an important habit to get in to.

Avoid any work or stressful activities before bed time, and never read work related materials before bed.

Put on some relaxing music, and ensure your room is warm and airy. Read something light and easy, or find a light mental activity to do before bed. I have discovered the crossword app “Words with Friends”” and play that for 5-10 minutes before switching off the music and the light. Whatever your find choose to do, enjoy that moment to take your mind off matters.

When you switch off your light, have a peaceful place that you remember as a place for your mind to go to. I remember an isolated beach in Abel Tasman National Park that I once lay on as the water lapped up on the sand nearby.

Observe your breathing, and mindfully enjoy deep slow breaths.

When thoughts wander to your ‘stressors’, gently go back to your happy place.

happy place

4. Have a Restlessness Plan

Often poor sleep shows as restlessness after lying for a while, or later waking up in the night and not returning to sleep. I used to wake up and immediately my mind was on my worries, which fired up the alarm centre of the brain, the amygdala, firing adrenalin into my system – goodbye sleep!

A pre-prepared plan of what to do in this situation can be helpful, because when you are half asleep the mind can not think of a rational action plan. Do it in advance and even write it down and have it by the bed.

The first thing to do if you are still restless after 15 minutes, is to get up out of bed. Yes, physically get up. It is no good tossing and turning and willing sleep to come. You need to break that thought pattern, and disrupt those awakening hormones. Attend to your physical needs first;

  • Go to the toilet
  • Make a warm milk drink
  • Check your temperature and ensure the air is fresh in the bedroom
  • Go back to bed with your warm drink, sit and sip while breathing slowly and deeply
  • Read a light and positive book, or do your Sudoku, crossword or activity, perhaps with the quiet music playing in the background
  • Finally, lie on your side, focus on your breathing, go back to your happy place – and drift off to sleep

With practice the routine will become a habit that the mind recognises as the cue to sleep. And deep restful sleep will become the norm for you with amazing benefits.

Peter Lehrke
MenoMe®
Nutritional Biochemist
Research Scientist

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Post-menopause


This is the time when menstruation is well and truly over, the ovaries have stopped producing high levels of sex hormones and for many ladies, perimenopause symptoms subside.

Estrogen has protective qualities and the diminished levels mean organs such as your brain, heart and bones become more vulnerable. It’s also a key lubricant so your lips may become drier, your joints less supple and your vagina might be drier. In addition, your thyroid, digestion, insulin, cortisol and weight may alter.

At this juncture, a woman might experience an increase in the signs of reduced estrogen but she should have a decrease of perimenopause symptoms. That said, some women will experience symptoms like hot flushes for years or even the rest of their lives.

Perimenopause

Peri = ‘near’

Most females begin to experience the symptoms of perimenopause in their mid-forties. Your progesterone levels decline from your mid-30s but it’s generally from around 40 that the rest of your sex hormones begin to follow suit. 

Perimenopause is a different experience for every woman and some women may barely notice it. The first indicators are usually changes to the monthly cycle. This means that for some ladies, this can be accompanied by things like sore breasts, mood swings, weight gain around the belly, and fatigue as time goes on.

For those with symptoms it can be a challenging time physically, mentally and emotionally.

Importantly, perimenopause lasts – on average – four to 10 years. The transition is usually a gradual process and many women enter perimenopause without realising.