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How menopausal women can ensure they enjoy a silent night

By Abi Jackson

Published 11/03/2016

Sweet dreams: The menopause can affect women’s sleep. Picture posed by model
Sweet dreams: The menopause can affect women’s sleep. Picture posed by model

Hormonal changes in middle and older age can disrupt women's sleep. Dr Nerina Ramlakhan shares eight slumber solutions for during and after menopause.

Menopause isn't one-size-fits-all; while some women sail through this life-stage seemingly unaffected, for many, it brings with it a host of unwelcome symptoms and side-effects, which can include disrupted sleep.

Of course, countless things can cause sleep difficulties - many of them external, such as an uncomfortable mattress, noisy environment and even the temperature of the room - and sometimes medical conditions like sleep apnoea (where breathing is interrupted during sleep) might be involved, so it's important to discuss sleep problems with your GP.

For women, hormonal fluctuations linked with menopause can impact sleep in a number of ways. "The menopause causes changes to our nervous system, and because of this imbalance, women experience menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes, which can impact the quality of our sleep," says Silentnight's sleep expert, Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, who has more than 25 years experience working with sleep, energy and health issues.

The good news is, there's a lot we can do to help improve our sleep.

"My advice - as someone who also falls into this age category and has in the last few years gone through at least three stressful life events - is to start placing value on your sleep," adds Dr Ramlakhan.

"This means prioritise your sleep, and protect its quality."

Here are Dr Ramlakhan's eight top tips for prioritising and protecting sleep during menopause.

MINDFULNESS

"My belief is that menopause is just another stage of life - like being a toddler, or a teenager - it comes with its trials and tribulations and we need to be mindful of the changes in our body, mind and spirit.

"This mindfulness will enable us to navigate the changes more gently so that we lessen the symptoms, particularly in relation to sleep.

"Complementary therapies, like yoga, acupuncture and reflexology, can help with keeping the nervous system in balance, therefore easing some of the symptoms women experience."

TRADITIONAL CHINESE MEDICINE

"Chinese herbs have been used to treat menopausal symptoms in Asian countries for centuries. Herbal medicines approach the root causes of the symptoms, rather than masking them, which makes for an easier transition for women going through the menopause."

CLEAN LIVING

"Clean living and eating become even more important as you age. Minimising caffeine, alcohol and refined sugar intake is key.

"These foods are classed as 'heating foods' and contribute to hot flushes you may experience when you reach 'that age' which can have a negative affect on sleep.

"It can take your body up to 10 hours to remove all traces of caffeine, even after just one cup of tea or coffee.

"If you're having problems sleeping, increase fluid intake by drinking more water, herbal teas and diluted fruit juices. Alcohol's the most commonly used sleep and relaxing aid in the world, as it initially has a sedative effect.

"However, alcohol stops you getting good, deep sleep, so the next day you feel not only physically tired but also mentally fuzzy. If you are regularly drinking alcohol to help you sleep, ask your doctor to help you find an alternative."

PREPARE YOUR BODY FOR GOOD SLEEP

"Prepare yourself biochemically for good sleep, by eating breakfast within 30 minutes of rising.

"This creates the ideal internal chemistry for optimal sleep."

LEARN HOW TO POWER NAP

"Allow yourself a quick power nap at some point between 2pm and 4pm - a short sleep lasting five to 15 minutes, when you will approach a near-sleep state without actually falling asleep.

"You don't have to get into bed; even spending a few minutes sitting quietly with eyes closed can increase mental energy and focus and help to de-excite the nervous system, which will help you sleep better later at night."

GET ACTIVE

"Keep active during the day - it doesn't have to be intense. Fast walking is a great form of exercise, especially if done in nature.

"Conversely, don't over-exercise. There is a current trend towards older people competing in extreme sports such as marathons and triathlons - this can place huge stresses on the body, particularly if you're not getting enough sleep."

PRACTICE GRATITUDE

"Practice gratitude, kindness and forgiveness regularly. Studies show people who do this tend to have more robust immune systems, healthier hearts and they sleep better.

"These are skills we especially need to practice in our later years, when life can sometimes feel messy and overwhelming.

"You can also take time to cultivate your inner life - this could be journaling, meditation, yoga, gardening or even fishing - something that enables you to bring calm, particularly if there's a lot of stress going on."

GENTLE SELF-CARE

"All of this adds up to being more gentle with ourselves when we go through this stage of life.

"Take time to nurture yourself - it can be hard when there are conflicting responsibilities of children growing up and elderly parents - but make small changes that enable you to get rest and nourish your body in the way it needs."

Tried and tested

Abi Jackson follows the mist for a better night's sleep

WHAT IS IT?

Made with 100% natural ingredients, this aromatherapy mist spray contains lavender, honeysuckle and chamomile and can be spritzed around the bedroom to help soothe and improve sleep.

WHAT'S IT LIKE?

Like many people, I often struggle to 'switch off' and fall asleep, but am keen to avoid heavy-duty sleeping pills. I'm a firm believer in aromatherapy, and for me, lavender is one of the most noticeably effective scents. A few squirts of this mist - which is pleasingly light and fresh and not at all overpowering - around my pillow before bed had an instant calming effect. I've been using it for two weeks now and find it helps me breathe more deeply and relax ready for sleep.

■ Miaroma Relaxing Lavender Sleep Mist 100ml, £7, Holland & Barrett

Stars speak out on their hot flush experiences

Angelina Jolie

“I am now in menopause,” wrote Angelina Jolie (39) in an op-ed for the New York Times, announcing she had undergone an operation to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes in an attempt to reduce the chance of her getting cancer, putting her into forced menopause. “I will not be able to have any more children. But I feel at ease with whatever will come. It is nothing to be feared.”

Kim Cattrall

“Literally, one moment you’re fine and then another, you feel like you’re in a vat of boiling water, and you feel like the rug has been pulled out from underneath you — especially the first experience,” said Cattrall (58), who went through the menopause in real life and also as her Sex and the City alter ego Samantha Jones.

“What I would say, which I’ve said to myself and to girlfriends who’ve also experienced hot flashes, in particular, is that change is part of being human. We evolve and should not fear that change. You’re not alone.”

Julie Walters

“It was like a chimney and came from the base of my spine. Every take there’d be, ‘Stop! She’s having a flush’,” Walters (65) told Saga Magazine. “At the National (Theatre), I’d come off stage for a quick change and have to shout, ‘Garth, the tray’! And this guy would come with this big tin tray and fan me.”

Bette Midler

“I did have night sweats and hot flashes at first. Then I did this soy-and-primrose oil thing, which helped tremendously,” Midler (69) told Oprah Winfrey. “I don’t suggest that anyone obsess over menopause or ageing. Still, in this culture, they throw you out when you get older. I see it all the time. At my age, you’re playing somebody’s mother.”

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