Do you remember the days when you easily dropped off to sleep the moment (or shortly thereafter) your head hit the pillow? It might have been a while ago, but there's nothing quite like falling asleep, carefree, when you need to.
If falling asleep is one of the menopause symptoms that is really foxing you as you journey through your menopause, read on to find out how to make it a little easier to get the sleep you need.
Sleep, of course, is a huge subject, and there are many factors that can influence how we sleep.
I’ll address more of them in later posts but for now, I want to focus on sleep hygiene in the evening.
Sleep hygiene basically refers to the actions that you take during the day and in the evening as you prepare to go to sleep, and how those can affect how easily you drop off.
There are so many parts to sleep hygiene, it can become a bit overwhelming (which leads to stress, and therefore reduced sleep – so we aren’t going to go there!)
The subject of sleep has so many layers and involves such a delicate dance between our hormones, that I leave the module on sleep until the very end of my Become a Menopause Coach course. It allows us to bring all the different strands and layers together in a way that makes sense.*
You are likely wanting to begin by asking the age old question: ‘how much sleep do I need?’
Instead of answering that question - there are just too many variables, and we all have different requirements for the actual hours of sleep we need at any given time - I believe it is more valuable to focus on getting good quality sleep rather than stress about the actual hours needed.
To really benefit from good, restorative, restful sleep, I believe there is one key point to remember:
Going to sleep is a process – our bodies and minds need to begin this process way before bedtime. The more we can help this, the easier dropping off to sleep will be.
As we head towards bedtime, we want the various aspects of our bodies and minds to be heading along that path with us, not fighting the journey. To support sleep, we want to be reducing our stress hormones; the very hormones that wake us and keep us awake.
My top six suggestions for a relaxing, and therefore sleep-inducing bedtime routine include:
Check the lights.
Is your bedroom bright? Is there a clock in the corner that shines just enough to brighten the room? Or a piece of tech on standby with that ever-present glow?
We were designed to sleep in darkness and while in the modern world, complete darkness is hard to find, the brighter your sleeping area, the less able your brain is to fully switch off. To sleep deeply, we need as much darkness as possible. This is also related to how bright your house is before you go to bed. If possible, in the evening, and especially as bedtime draws near, aim to keep the main, bright lights switched off and instead use softer light so that we can begin the process of winding down.
Ditch screens as you head towards bedtime.
The longer you can have been looking at a screen and bedtime, the better. Not only are phones and screens a nightmare in terms of blue light (which basically wakes us up!) but they also tend to increase, rather than decrease, our stress levels.
Catching up on the news, watching a scary film, or even just reading an annoying facebook post by an annoying old school friend can be enough to start increasing stress levels enough to affect our sleep.
Enjoy a warm calming drink.
There are many to choose from, such as chamomile tea, or any sleepy tea containing ingredients such as lemon balm, valerian or lavender.
You can even go a bit retro and enjoy a milky drink – whatever works for you.
The aim is to induce a feeling of relaxation and also to hydrate your body a little (being dehydrated isn’t relaxing so if you’ve been avoiding drinks in the evening for fear of needing the loo, it’s worth finding a balance!)
Whatever you choose to drink, ensure it is completely caffeine free as even a small amount can be enough to scupper your good sleep intentions.
Take time to be present as you perform those regular bedtime activities so that they themselves become part of the wind-down routine. Brushing your teeth, cleansing and moisturising your face can all form key signals to your mind that it is time to relax.
Take a moment to reflect with gratitude on your day. We know that gratitude is very relaxing and actively reduces stress. Even if your day was utterly wild, try to find a regular way to move into gratitude with a journal, prayer or meditation. Personally, I'm a big fan of journalling.
Aim to go to bed at the same time every night.
Our bodies and minds thrive on routine, especially if we are very busy at other times during the day or are dealing with menopause symptoms which make our lives feel more out of control than before. Providing ourselves with a regular nudge that it is time to start winding down can feel almost magical in the difference it makes.
While each of these tips can make a difference to how easily you drop off, and how well you sleep, there is definitely benefit to trying all of them. Each tip can work in isolation, but I believe there are greater benefits when you try all (or at least most) of them.
I therefore invite you to find ways to explore each suggestion so that you can once again enjoy falling asleep, and then staying asleep!
* If you want to become an expert on our menopause hormones and how they affect sleep, I’d love to welcome you on to my next Become a Menopause Coach Diploma course – full details are available here.