5 simple solutions to improve sleep in menopause & beyond
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Sleep disturbances such as insomnia are common in women in midlife. Nearly half of women in perimenopause have sleep issues, and these issues tend to worsen postmenopause.
Sleep issues are often the first signs that hormones are changing.
During perimenopause, estrogen and progesterone levels naturally begin to drop and this can lead to increased insomnia and disrupted sleep patterns. Low and fluctuating estrogen levels can often cause hot flashes and night sweats making it very difficult to get a good night’s rest and low progesterone, the “feel good” hormone, can bring on anxiety making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Low estrogen and progesterone levels after menopause can bring on other problems like obstructive sleep apnea and poor bladder support. A number of other sleep-altering factors can also come into play at this stage. Restless legs syndrome (the uncontrollable urge to move legs and feet during rest), depression, anxiety, stress, certain medications and overall poor health can cause disrupted sleep. Not to mention, our sleep-wake cycle naturally changes with age, even when not experiencing menopause.
"More than 60% of postmenopausal women suffer from insomnia." (National Sleep Foundation)
Getting good quality sleep at the right time is essential to good health, especially through the years of menopause. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), getting less than seven hours of sleep in a 24-hour period can have a significant impact on your health. Chronic health conditions like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and depression are more likely to develop in adults who do not get the required sleep.
Lack of sleep also affects brain health.
“Sleep is one of the six pillars of brain health. A good night’s sleep helps you restore, recharge, solve problems, process emotions and memories left over from the day, and quite literally, cleanses the brain of toxins, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease. Be sure to get enough sleep every night.” (Women’s Brain Health Initiative)
If you are struggling with sleeplessness, it is very important to see your doctor or healthcare provider to rule out any underlying physical or psychological causes.
As well, there are actions you can take to help improve your slumber.
Here are some tips to improve your sleep during menopause:
1. Cultivate good sleep habits.
Follow a regular sleep schedule of going to sleep and getting up at the same time each day.
Be sure your bedroom is dark, cool, quiet and a screen-free zone.
Sleep naked or sleep in lightweight pyjamas.
Avoid high-intensity exercise and screen time before bed.
Choose calming activities like taking a bath, listening to relaxing music or reading a good book closer to bedtime.
2. Assess your dietary
Never eat large or spicy meals close to bedtime.
Avoid stimulants like nicotine, caffeinated drinks and alcohol in the evening, as these are all hot flash/night sweats triggers.
Enjoy herbal teas in the evening.
Limit all fluid intake at least a couple of hours before bed.
Tyramine-rich foods like aged cheese, dark chocolate, cured meats, fermented beverages and sauerkraut at dinner may also disrupt sleep.
If you must have a snack before bed, I recommend a sliced apple with a little almond butter to keep blood sugar levels stable overnight so you don't wake up too early.
3. Eat a diet rich in whole, plant foods.
Studies have shown that women who eat more fruits and vegetables are at a
lower risk for developing insomnia.
Melatonin, a natural hormone that promotes sleep, can be found naturally in grapes, cherries, strawberries, tomatoes, peppers and mushrooms. Melatonin is also relatively high in wheat, barley, oats, black rice and pistachios.
Tofu, nuts and seeds contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that happens to be a precursor to serotonin, a hormone controlling sleep and waking. However, eating these foods alone won’t boost your serotonin levels. Be sure to eat these foods with a healthy carbohydrate (potatoes or whole grains). Carb-rich meals help make tryptophan, which will positively impact your sleep.
"A diet low in carbohydrates can also negatively impact a woman’s sleep." (Sara Gottfried, MD. "Women, Food and Hormones")
Choosing to eat the right carbohydrates is very important. Refined carbs like white bread, pasta and rice contribute to insomnia. These foods cause a rapid spike then crash in blood sugar levels. Aim to consume whole foods for their sleep-promoting nutrients and support of blood sugar levels.
Foods high in B vitamins, magnesium and calcium can help improve stress and promote relaxation. Vitamin B6, in particular, is involved in the making of serotonin. Avocados, bananas, green peas, potatoes, walnuts and wheat germ are all good plant-based sources of B6. Foods high in magnesium and calcium like leafy greens, beans, legumes, nuts, and pumpkin seeds are particularly helpful with restless leg syndrome.
4. Manage your stress.
Keep a journal or notebook bedside to jot down tasks or what is on your mind and then set it aside for the next day.
Regular exercise like yoga or getting outside during the day for a long walk help decrease feelings of stress and anxiety.
Massage therapy, aromatherapy, acupuncture, and meditation can also help lower stress levels.
5. Try a sleep support supplement.
Adding the right sleep support supplement to your evening routine can make a big difference. There are many formulas on the market that help with relaxation, reduce the time needed to fall asleep, and stay asleep. As a holistic nutritionist, I can help you choose the right supplement for you.
Adjusting your habits and making small changes to your diet and lifestyle are practical ways to tackle sleep issues in perimenopause and postmenopause. Need support with your sleep issues or other complaints associated with menopause?
Sleep Duration and Quality Among Women Aged 40-59, by Menopausal Status. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28922102/
Sleep Disorders in Postmenopausal Women. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4621258/
Sleep and Chronic Diseases. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/chronic_disease.html
How Circadian Rhythmns Change as We age. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/circadian-rhythm/how-age-affects-your-circadian-rhythm
How Much Sleep Do I Need? https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
Sleep and Sleep Disorders. https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/index.html
Know Your Six Pillars of Brain Health. https://womensbrainhealth.org/mind-over-matter-video/the-six-pillars-of-brain-health
Dietary Sources & Bioactivities of Melatonin
Menopause and insomnia: Could a low-GI diet help? https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/menopause-and-insomnia-could-a-low-gi-diet-help-2020011718710?gclid=Cj0KCQjwkt6aBhDKARIsAAyeLJ1zptwffrAFjzalk7Ui7V9CPCMQlSNrt4RlmNHX1D953oR2_xOrA6caAp9YEALw_wcB
Plant-based diets: reducing cardiovascular risk by improving sleep quality. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5999325/
Pat Wingert and Barbara Kantrowitz. The Menopause Book