Sleep and the Midlife GalMay 01, 2021
Tired of counting sheep each night . . . well you’re not alone, sis!
Not-So-Fun Fact: According to WebMD, 20% of all women ages 40 to 59 said they had trouble falling asleep on four or more nights in the prior week.
Unfortunately it’s common for women in midlife, starting their menopause transition (known as perimenopause) to suffer from sleep troubles - like struggling to fall asleep or trouble staying asleep.
Welcome to Midlife insomnia . . .
Since I personally started to struggling with insomnia a few years back I started to do a lot of research on why I was struggling, how my changing hormones were affecting my sleep (something I've never had a problem with before!), and what I could do about it to not only find relief for myself, but also my clients.
In my research I learned that there are two types of insomnia:
- primary insomnia which is a relatively short-term problem brought on by conditions that interfere with sleep (worry and stress, uncomfortable sleep environment, alcohol consumption or drinking coffee too close to bedtime . . . you get it)
- while secondary insomnia is harder to trace because it occurs alongside, or as a result of, a medical or psychological problem that disrupt sleeping patterns (this could be medications, environmental factors, or physical issues such as perimenopause, hormonal imbalance, hot flashes, leg or foot cramps, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, arthritis, breathing problems, insulin resistance, gastrointestinal disorders, mineral deficiencies, and urinary incontinence), and can quickly become as bad as the condition that’s causing it, kind of like a catch 22 situation!!
>> Trouble sleeping every night for more than a few weeks is considered chronic insomnia
If you are suffering from constant poor quality sleep you may notice a few of these issues popping up:
- Lack of less energy
- less self-control
- increased craving for sweet, salty, and starchy foods
- immune system deficiencies
- increased blood pressure
- increased risk for heart disease
- increased risk of developing depression and anxiety
- forgetfulness or the inability to focus
What you do during the day has a serious effect on your ability to sleep at night.
Working on improving your sleeping conditions or “sleep hygiene,” along with other lifestyle habits can help decrease your battle with insomnia. Before change can occur, you have to be aware of your habits and patterns.
I encourage you to start by observing thing that may be triggering your sleep issues, things like:
- Foods you eat and when you eat them
- Caffeine, nicotine and alcohol consumption
- Medications, vitamins, or supplements you are taking and WHEN you take them
- Stress level or issues with anxiety
- Exercise routines / times
- Menstrual cycle
- Bedtime schedule
- Sleep environment, including temperature, light, noise, bed and bedding
- What you do before bed (read, watch TV, scroll social media, etc.)
- Your energy level throughout the day
Simply tracking your daily habits is one way to help you spot patterns as to what is keeping you from finding the sleep you so desire!
The best place to begin when it comes to improving your sleep is with small changes.
No two people need the same things to sleep well; building habits for healthier sleep is going to be different for everyone depending on their needs, lifestyle, and particular goals.
Here are a few suggestions you can test out and see what works best for YOU:
- Establish a bedtime routine to send an internal message to your body and mind that it’s time to let go of the day and prepare for sleep. Experiment with some of these time-tested options: a relaxing bath before bedtime, meditation, reading, tidying up your bedroom, a cup of chamomile tea, aromatherapy (try lavender), and gentle stretching exercises or yoga.
- Treat yourself like a toddler (it’s totally okay) Set a firm bedtime, allotting an hour to wind down before you even try to go to sleep. Dim the lights, turn off the TV, cell phone and computer, and make your bedroom as comfortable as possible. Choose calming colors and keep the room completely dark when it’s time to sleep, or wear a sleep mask.
- Block out any outside noise with earplugs.
- Keep your bedroom temperature on the cool side to help you stay asleep — 60-68 degrees is a good range.
- Eat your last meal at least four hours before bed, avoid caffeine after noon, and don’t have sugar, coffee, cigarettes and alcohol near bedtime.
- Engage in physical activity during the day. Exercise helps relax your body and prepare it for sleep but don’t do it close to bedtime.
- Empty your brain! Jot down your current concerns on paper in the evening to help prevent anxious thinking if you wake during the night.
- Take a natural sleep aid. Try melatonin or a supplement with phosphatidylserine and/or L-theanine 45 minutes before bedtime. (Remember this is to help as you work toward creating lifestyle habits - not a longer term solution)
- Work on balancing your hormones. Gently rebalance hormone levels, especially estrogen and progesterone, with herbal support. This can calm your nerves and help relieve other symptoms that might be interfering with your sleep. If your symptoms are so intense that they’re affecting your quality of life, see a healthcare practitioner.
- Try to be exposed to natural light early in the day. Sunlight helps to regulate the body’s natural circadian rhythm.
- Some find it easier to sleep with “white noise” such as a fan or portable machine.
- Practicing consistent good sleep hygiene will not always solve all your sleep issues, but it will put you on the road to finding success. If you feel like you are still struggling I encourage you to seek help from a professional sleep specialist. Talk to you primary doctor and let them know exactly what you are experiencing, when, often, and if you are tracking those triggers make sure to share what patterns you've noticed so they can help make a plan specific to your needs!
Are you starting to notice an increase in sleep disturbances? What methods have you already tried? What methods will you think about trying in the future?
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