From perimenopause through to post-menopause there can be distinct implications on sleep, while, conversely good sleep can also have a profound effect on any symptoms a woman may have. The long-term effect of a poor night’s sleep can affect both physical health, but also take a toll on mental health and wellbeing, your energy, work and relationships.
Every woman will experience their menopause transition differently but according to research from the UK Parliament Survey Menopause & The Workplace eight in ten women have trouble sleeping for a number of reasons, including changes in body temperature. To sleep well, your body temperature should be approximately 18 degrees or slightly lower. Hot flushes and night sweats caused by changing hormones disturb this, so the key to feeling rested after a good night’s sleep is to develop a sleep routine that not only helps with overall sleep readiness but that also includes managing one’s own body temperature.
We have worked with James Ellis, who is also a certified menopause coach, to develop seven top tips to help make hot flushes less challenging, so you can get a better night’s sleep.
1. Work on developing a nightly sleep routine
Try to develop a sleep routine that gets you primed ready for a good night’s sleep rather than scrolling phones or using screens in bed. Blue light emitted from devices is stimulating for the brain and can lead to sleep issues, so switch them off early or wear special light blocking glasses. Try to enter a period of calm before bed, so your mind is ready to switch off. “Getting into a consistent routine is imperative for anyone’s sleep but especially during the menopause transition,” says women’s midlife nutritionist and health coach James Ellis. “One of the tips I give my clients is to adopt a 3-2-1 routine. No food three hours before bed, no work two hours before, and no screens an hour before sleep.” In that last hour, reading a gentle book, meditating, or relaxing in a hot bath with Epsom salts can all help.”
Reduce alcohol and caffeine
Good quality caffeine can have its place in a health journey, but those who are more susceptible to its stimulating effects may want to think about reducing it or removing it from early in the afternoon. According to neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker in ‘Why We Sleep’, a cup of coffee can take up to seven hours to leave the body. While it’s easy to think alcohol helps sleep, the effect can be quite the opposite. “Studies show that alcohol actually disrupts sleep. While drinking alcohol may help people get to sleep, it’s been shown that deep sleep can be severely affected,” says Ellis. “There’s also evidence that both alcohol and caffeine may also exacerbate night sweats, so reducing both may help provide the landscape for a better night’s sleep.”
When it comes to caffeine, it may be worth remembering that caffeine is not limited to coffee. It can also be found in foods such as dark chocolate, flavoured ice-cream, headache remedies and even decaf beverages, but to a far lesser degree.
Wear cool clothes
Cooling fabrics such as loose-fitting cotton and silk that naturally wick away heat are far better than wearing synthetic fabrics such as polyester or nylon which trap sweat, if you’re getting hot flushes or night sweats.
Layer the bed
If you’re prone to night sweats and tired of fighting with your bedclothes, swap your duvet for layers of easily removable cool, crisp sheets. Just make sure they’re 100% cotton as cotton blends such as poly-cotton will heat you up rather than cool you down. If bedtime isn’t the same without a cosy duvet to cocoon yourself in, exchange your existing one for a lighter 4.5 tog summer weight duvet and add cotton layers that you can easily remove.
Turn down the heat
An ambient room temperature is important for switching on the body’s sleep mechanism and soothing you into a slumber-like state. Keep a slightly cool temperature in the room between 66-72 F or 18-22 C. If you feel a flush coming on, spray your face with cool water or use a cold gel pack, rather than standing in front of an open fridge door!
Reduce your stress levels
Stress can aggravate menopausal symptoms so meditation, exercise and other acts of self-care can have a positive effect on your daily life. “Constant low-level stress is a real enemy of the menopause transition, so finding balance is imperative” says Ellis. “Women during midlife are constantly spinning plates: work, kids, parents, partners, friends and put their / themselves last when it comes to priorities. It’s a challenge, but realising self-care is not selfish can be key to helping many women during the menopause transition. Practising a daily calming breathing technique is perhaps one of the simplest ways to manage stress, and can be practised anywhere – on the tube, in bed or while having a relaxing bath (just keep it lukewarm, as overheating can cause hot flushes).
Sleeping alone can make a positive difference for some women, whilst for others it can lead to further isolation and sleepless nights. One solution could be to try separate duvets or sheets to create your own sleep haven. “As well as layering your bed, there are now specialist mattress undercovers that have two zones,” advises Ellis. “You can regulate your half to be cooler, while your partner who likes the bed to be warmer can heat their side. That way you can both have a good night’s sleep.”
Catherine Morris, Managing Director of Tielle Love Luxury said, ‘Creating the optimum sleep environment is essential for a good night’s sleep when you’re going through the menopause. Being able to regulate the temperature fluctuations with a bedsheet or duvet as well as implementing a pre-bedtime ritual and consistent bedtime will give you a better night’s sleep so you wake feeling better emotionally and physically.”
James Ellis is a specialist nutritionist and certified menopause coach who helps women above 40 re-find their confidence so they can get their ‘old selves back’. He works across mindset, nutrition, movement, recovery and sleep.