Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, neurophysiologist and sleep expert, shares advice on how to improve sleep and energy levels when you’re menopausal
Achieving deep, restorative sleep is an excellent way to bolster resilience during this sensitive life stage – it enables the hormonal shifts to occur more smoothly and emotions to be more balanced and even.
When sleep is deep and optimal, the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) – associated with rest, repair, recovery – gets a reboot and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) – activated by stress – is calmed. An overly active SNS can lead to more night sweats, hot flushes and anxiety during the night while boosting the PNS will help to minimise these types of symptoms. This can be done by making good lifestyle choices and adopting some effective self-care principles during this life phase. The added bonus is deep replenishing sleep at night and abundant energy during the day.
Here are some tips to help you not only navigate menopause but also sleep more deeply and with ease:
Get regular exercise
Ideally out in nature and in the fresh air, as this will help your body produce more melatonin at night. Take care not to over-exercise either as this can have the opposite effect and can stress your joints causing more pain and inflammation at night. Yoga and meditation practice are great ways to combat stress generally, and if you wake at night unable to get back to sleep. Try a 10-minute pre-sleep yoga routine to calm the nervous system and help let go of the day.
Maintain a healthy diet
Make sure you drink lots of water (warm water is good) throughout the day to keep your body hydrated, minimise night sweats and reduce inflammation and joint pain. It is also important to ensure you don’t skip meals; aim to eat at regular intervals to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Likewise, it is a bad idea to over-indulge on refined, sugary carbohydrates, particularly in the evening, as this will exacerbate night sweats and sleeplessness. Make sure you get enough protein in your diet. Limit your caffeine intake, particularly after 3 pm, and reduce alcohol consumption – ideally, avoid an evening tipple altogether. Caffeine and alcohol can worsen hormonal imbalances.
Go to bed early
Aim to get to bed before 10 pm – most nights if possible or at least 3-4 times per week in order to harness the rejuvenating power of pre-midnight sleep. This early phase of sleep is the most healing time when the brain performs vital ‘filing’ processes, so we can wake up feeling clear-headed. Also, keep your sleep environment cool – use a fan, keep curtains closed during the day if it’s hot and sunny, sprinkle cooling eucalyptus oils on your duvet and pillow.
Build rest into your day
Taking regular rest stops will stop your nervous system becoming over-activated and stressed – a major cause of night sweats. Even at work (especially at work and working from home) be sure to take proper breaks for lunch and every 90 minutes or so a few minutes to do something restful. Get away from screens and technology, eat something nourishing, stretch, walk around your garden, drink a glass of water – think of it as pressing the reset button.
Consider alternative therapies
If you’re really suffering, look into Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture to support your nervous system. These can be used, under the care of a good practitioner, alongside traditional HRT or bioidentical supplementation.
The menopause is a powerful time for emotional healing and this healing, if not done, can disrupt your sleep and even your mental health. Ensure that you have a good network of support around you, whether friends, family or a trusted mentor or therapist. Find a safe space to express your feelings and if you don’t have someone to talk to consider developing a regular meditation or journaling practice to help calm and soothe uncomfortable emotions when they arise.
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