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Hello, and welcome to my weekly video blog A. Vogel Talks Menopause. Now, over the last few months, sleep problems seem to have cropped up all over the place, and they can be caused by many, many different things. I’ve mentioned in passing some of the things that you can do to help to improve your sleep. But I’ve had quite a few of you contact me and say, “Please, can you do one entirely on sleep and what we can do to help ourselves to get a better night’s sleep.” So this is what I’m actually going to do today.
We know, for a start, that getting a poor night’s sleep can have a huge effect on all different areas of our health. It can affect our immune system, making us more prone to colds, infections, and allergies. It can affect our emotional well-being. If we don’t sleep well, we’re going to be cranky. We’re going to be miserable. We can even feel depressed during the whole of the next day. It can cause fatigue, and we know that the menopause itself can really drain us of energy. If you then put a poor night’s sleep on top of that, it can very often feel that you’re running on empty for weeks, if not months. It can also affect our perception of pain. It can make pain feel worse. This is quite a problem, especially if you’re one of those ladies who are getting joint aches and pains as one of your menopause symptoms.
So why does this happen?
Why are we more prone to having sleep problems in the menopause? There can be a whole range of issues.
The main one being falling oestrogen. For some reason, falling oestrogen actually interferes with the way that we can stay asleep. So during the night, we can have periods of what we call REM sleep, so that’s when you dream, you can have deep sleep. So you’re actually going on a little bit of a wave sleep during the night. But what happens in the menopause is these periods when we try to come to a little bit, instead of staying asleep, we actually wake up. Once we wake up, we’ve then got the problem of trying to get back to sleep as well. So just with that alone, you can find that you’re waking up and falling asleep several times a night. And over time, that can affect our well-being on a day-to-day basis.
There are also loads of things, unfortunately, that we do daily that can affect our sleep as well. We’ve got the night sweat. This is a huge issue and these by themselves, again, can actually wake you up several times a night. If you get soaked enough, and a lot of women say that they sweat so much they have to get out of bed, they have to change their night clothes. So, if you’re actually having to rouse yourself and get out of bed, that can make you completely awake and then you’re going to have even more of a problem dropping off to sleep as well.
Food and drink
What you eat and drink in the evening can have a profound effect on the way you sleep. Sugary things, even an afternoon cup of coffee, can still be enough to disrupt your sleep at night and that’s really, really common one as well. We’ve got low blood sugar levels as well. This is quite a big problem in the menopause. A lot of women find that they get far more sensitive to blood sugar ups and downs. If your blood sugar level dips too low during the night, that actually trigger a panic attack, which can wake you up. And very often, it will either trigger a flush or a sweat or it will possibly give you palpitations as well. And then again, you’re going to have a real problem trying to get back to sleep after something like that happening.
It can also be our liver. Remember, just recently, I talked about how important it is to look after your liver. So if you’re waking up every night, or nearly every night, between one and three o’clock in the morning, very often that’s your liver just being overworked as well.
We’ve also got an irritated bladder and this is a really, really common problem in the menopause. A lot of women find that they can’t actually go all night without having to get up to go to the toilet, and sometimes it can be two or three times a night as well. Again, because you’re up, if you’re switching the light on then you’re wide awake, again, you’re going to have problems getting back to sleep as well.
We’ve also got dehydration. If you’ve been getting hot flushes during the day and you didn’t drink enough, you are going to bed in a state of dehydration. If you then have nice sweats, you’re going to be even more dehydrated and dehydration, like low blood sugar levels, can trigger the nervous system, which will end up in more night sweats, believe it or not, or palpitations as well.
Anxiety and worry
We’ve also got anxiety and worry and the menopause…for a lot of women in the menopause, our levels of anxiety and worrying about absolutely everything can go sky high. So there you are going to bed at night and instead of trying to calm yourself, you’re actually thinking, “Ah, I forgot to do such and such today. Oh no, I’ve got to do that tomorrow.” Or, “Oh, this whole thing is happening next week.” So you’re actually in a state of mental anxiety and mental worry. And as you fall asleep, that worry doesn’t get resolved, that you have not finished it. So behind the scenes at night when you’re sleeping, like a computer that’s actually backing up, there’s a little part of your brain that’s probably whirring away the whole time. So that can interface with a good restful sleep. But the minute you wake up, like a computer coming on suddenly, you start thinking where you left off when you actually went to sleep. So before you’ve even got out of bed, you’re in a state of anxiety and worry and that will carry on through the day as well.
So what can you do to actually give yourself a really good night sleep?
There’s loads of things that you can actually try without resorting to sleeping tablets.
You can look at herbs. So if you’re getting a lot of flushes or sweats during the night, sage can be really, really good for this. And very often, it will work very quickly. You can look at a magnesium supplement taken with your evening meal that can very often calm the nervous system down. You can look at herbs such as valerian and hops and we do a sleep remedy called Dormeasan, which is traditionally used for helping with sleep where there’s anxiety.
You need to look at you’re eating in the evening so don’t have an evening meal that is high in sugar, that’s too high in carbohydrates because those can rev up your blood sugar, you’ll then get dehydrated and that can cause problems as well. Look at what you’re drinking at night. Don’t go for the caffeine, the tea, or the fizzy drinks, or the alcohol because they will all keep you awake. You can try tea such as Rooibos. You can look at calming herb teas such as chamomile as well.
Look at water. If you’re dehydrated, it’s really important to take a little drink of water before you go to bed. I suggest just a little glass of warm water, you know, the little shot glasses that you get, just take one of those. That will do two things, it will keep you hydrated during the night, especially if you’re getting sweats but it will also help with the bladder problem, believe it or not. Dehydration will make your urine very, very concentrated and acidic and that, by itself, can actually irritate the bladder and wake you up. So having a little drink, just a little drink of water, before you go to bed can sometimes sort that particular problem.
A lot of people say to me, “Why does it have to be warm water?” The last thing you want to do at night is take a drink of cold water because it will shock your digestive system and that will stop you getting off to sleep as well.
The other really important thing is don’t have any electrical equipment in your bedroom. It just amazes me how many people will sit in bed and watch TV, switch the TV off, and then wonder why they can’t actually get to sleep. So don’t have anything like that in the bedroom. Try and create a proper regime at night before you got to bed. So maybe an hour before you think you’re ready for bed, switch the TV off, maybe put on some relaxing music. Don’t start to Google. Don’t start to be texting friends at that time of night. Put all your electrical equipment off, maybe have a read but read something nice, don’t go for horror stories.
You can also just maybe do a little bit of relaxation as well. Get yourself in the mood for sleep. Sometimes people actually find a nice warm bath, not a shower, but a nice gentle bath with some lavender oil can be really, really soothing as well. So, find a routine that will actually help you get in the mood to actually get to sleep. Once you get into bed, if the worry starts to kick in, then just try and lie on your back, hands by your sides. Start to do some really slow deep breathing. Start to feel your muscles relaxing and very often just doing this for five minutes will relax enough and help you get off to sleep.
Until next week...
So hopefully this has helped. Your homework for this week, like I said before, try and set up a little night-time routine that’s going to give you a better night sleep. If you have any good tips, I’m sure we would all love to hear them so do let me know. So, I look forward to seeing you next week on A.Vogel Talks Menopause.