How to Sleep Better
After the nights of broken sleep I had with young babies had passed, I thought I’d never have to go back there again. So why is a good night’s sleep so elusive now? Is it the daily stresses and anxieties of life keeping me up at night, or is there a physical explanation for my wakeful nights?
In this article we look at why sleep can be disrupted as we age, and tips to improve your sleep hygiene.
Quality sleep is essential for optimum health; just a few of the things that occur during sleep include memory consolidation and the restoration of our nervous, immune, skeletal, and muscular systems. Virtually all our bodys’ systems are impacted by poor or disrupted sleep, and chronic sleep disturbance can a detrimental effect on our overall health.
But sleepless nights aren’t uncommon. In fact, most people will face a night or two of restless sleep quite frequently. With one-third of all adults report significant sleep complaints(1).
A few of the common examples keeping us awake might include concerns about personal relationships, work, or money worries; if you suffer from anxiety or depression you’re at a greater risk of experiencing sleep disruption too; eating too late in the evening can affect your digestion – which then affects your body’s ability to sleep; and drinking coffee, tea, and alcohol can also disrupt your body’s sleep cycle.
According to the NHS – when you have difficulty sleeping on a regular basis – this becomes defined as insomnia.
And the symptoms of insomnia aren’t as clear cut as not being able to fall asleep or being able to stay asleep. Other indicators of insomnia may include; taking 30 minutes or longer to fall asleep, waking too early or not feeling rested or refreshed after sleeping.
This loss of sleep can take a toll on your well-being. In addition to being tired, insomnia can affect your health in several ways, including making you feel anxious and irritable, and decreasing your ability to focus or remember things.
Layer on hormonal changes…
Studies show that unto 61% of women experiencing difficulty time falling asleep and hard time staying asleep, during their menopausal transition(2). A staggering 26% of women experience ‘severe symptoms’ that impact daytime functioning, and qualify them for a diagnosis of insomnia(2)
So what’s happening here?
Our oestrogen, progesterone, and testosterone hormone levels fluctuate during perimenopause, and it’s these changing levels that are responsible for many menopausal symptoms, including sleep disruption. The role of these hormones help us understand why…
Oestrogen is associated with mental sharpness, positive mental state, and regular sleep patterns. It helps our bodies use serotonin and other important chemicals in our brains that help with sleep. Low oestrogen levels can be associated with fatigue, difficulty concentrating, headaches and migraine, weight gain and disrupted sleep(3)
Progesterone has a calming effect on the body, helping us to relax and maintain a positive mental mood. Progesterone increases the production of GABA, another chemical in our brains that works to help sleep. Lower levels of progesterone can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, restlessness and trouble sleeping, including a tendency to wake up frequently(4).
Testosterone is mostly responsible for sex drive but also boosts overall energy(5).
With these three hormones decreasing in levels, it’s no wonder that regular, restful sleep is one of the first things to go during perimenopause.
Hot flushes and night sweats
Hot flushes and night sweats are two of the most common symptoms of menopause, and these sudden surges and dips in your body temperature affect our sleep too.Hot flushes affect 75-85% of women during their menopause transition(6).
Nighttime hot flushes, or night sweats are often linked with unexpected awakening during the night. Whilst you might think its the hot flush itself that has awakened you, research shows that many menopausal women actually wake just before a hot flush occurs, because there are changes in the brain that lead to the hot flush itself, and those changes — not just the feeling of heat — that triggers the awakening.(7)
Read more about Hot Flushes here.
Tips for Sleep hygiene:
If a good night’s kip is evading you, you don’t have to rely on powering through the day fuelled by caffeine or sheer willpower; and if disrupted sleep is affecting your daily life then you should talk to your health professional about treatment options.
But, making some lifestyle changes and getting your sleep hygiene right can also be one way to improve your quality of sleep.
Like any behaviour change, acquiring a new habit requires a bit of patience and consistent repetition, so if tackling all of these new habits at one time is daunting, maybe pick one or two and try them for a few weeks before trying another.
Here we’ve pulled together some top tips from sleep experts that all aim to help you sleep better.
1. Curate a sleeping space.
Think temperature, light, and noise. Having your bedroom too hot, or too cold can seriously impact on your sleep. The body’s heat peaks in the evening and then drops to its lowest levels when you’re asleep, so a cool 16-18°C is thought to be an ideal temperature in a bedroom. Temperatures over 24°C are likely to cause restlessness, while a cold room of about 12°C will make it difficult to drop off.(8)
Turn off any light sources. This includes alarm clocks and mobile phones. The buzzing and blinking lights of a mobile phone could alert your brain even when you’re asleep.
Use blackout curtains to make the room darker or use a sleep mask to keep light out of your eyes. Studies have shown our eyes aren’t good at blocking blue light which typically comes from a screen like your phone, iPad or TV. (almost all of the blue light passes straight through to the back of your retina, which stimulates your brain to translate the light into images). Blue light particularly messes with your body’s ability to prepare for sleep because it blocks the hormone melatonin that makes you sleepy(9). So best to avoid watching the telly or noodling on your phone right before bed.
Stop any unnecessary sounds. Turn off the radio, remove ticking clocks etc.
2. Create a nighttime routine.
It sounds simple, but having a nightly routine isn’t just for young children. Getting into bed, and turning the light out around the same time every night can help train your body and brain to get tired at that time every day. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is the number one recommendation by sleep experts.
3. Eat earlier
Going to sleep on a full stomach may cause heartburn or digestion issues, both of which may make you uncomfortable while you’re asleep. Time your evening meal for a few hours before going to sleep, and if you’re a nighttime nibbler, try snacking on a banana which contains an amino acid needed to make serotonin and melatonin – the brain chemicals that make us sleepy.
4. Manage your Fluid intake
If you’re struggling to stay alert, reaching for a glass of water can help you keep your natural energy up, but try to taper off your fluid intake a few hours before bed to avoid having to wake up in the night to use the loo. Caffeine is a stimulant, so try to limit the amount of caffeine towards the end of the day.
5. Limit your alcohol intake
Whilst alcohol is a sedative, the effect won’t last. Alcohol prevents deep stages of restorative sleep, impacting the quality of sleep you’re getting(10)
6. Practice relaxation techniques
Finding ways to relax and switch off can help you ease into sleep. Meditation or gentle stretching just before bed may help you calm your mind and slip into sleep more easily.
7. Be active, but at the right times.
Even just 10 minutes of walking or cycling, can significantly boost your sleep quality, but if you exercise too late in the day it can actually keep you awake longer than you’d like – try pushing your physical activity to the early evening or late afternoon. This way, your body will be ready to wind down at bedtime (11).
8. Listen to your body.
As we age, our internal clock changes. (Sadly) we may not be able to burn the candle at both ends – staying up late and getting up early like we once did. Moving your sleeping times around to what your body naturally wants to do may help.
How’s your sleep?
Take this this short test HERE from Sleepio find out you overall ‘sleep score’
This article is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice and diagnosis and does not constitute medical advice. If you are concerned about any change in your mental or physical health you should contact your health professional straight away.
(7). Hot Flushes
(8) Hot Flushes
(10) Blue light