Picture this: It’s the early hours of the morning and you’re struggling to sleep. Your body temperature is rising, and anxiety is making it harder to relax. Menopause insomnia is serious, especially when a surprise UK heatwave makes your unairconditioned bedroom feel like a sauna.
Whilst we Brits love an excuse to dust off the BBQ, menopause during a heatwave can make sleep particularly challenging. Studies have shown between 40-60% of menopausal women experience sleep disturbances.
So, what can you do to improve your sleep this summer? As part of our Summer Survival Guide, we caught up with the Sleep Geek himself (aka James Wilson) who’s shared his expert advice to sleep better this summer.
Menopause and anxiety at night
If you suffer from anxiety, either as you’re going to bed, or in the middle of the night as you wake up, there are lots of things we can do to help. Ultimately, it’s about dropping our heart rate. It’s about being relaxed, and that’s different for everybody. Here are a few different techniques you could try to beat menopause anxiety for a better night’s sleep.
1. Breathing exercises
Breathing exercises can be really effective in tackling menopause anxiety at night. A really good one is box breathing. With box breathing, you breathe in for four and you hold for four. Then you breathe out for four, and you rest for four. Do that for about four minutes and your mind will start to relax.
2. ‘The’ technique
You could also try something called the ‘the’ technique. With this technique, you close your eyes and imagine a white light at the end of a tunnel. Now, breathe in for four, then out for seven, and just say the word ‘the’ over and over again.
3. Light exercise
If you do yoga, pilates, stretching, or meditation – brilliant! If you’re new to this type of exercise, it can be difficult at first. It can also take a bit of time to get used to the feeling of being relaxed, but meditation is incredibly powerful in helping you fall asleep.
Menopause and alcohol at night
When it comes to drinks, we want to think about hydration. The key is making sure you’re drinking enough water during the day, especially if you’re drinking alcohol.
Alcohol is not a sleep inducer – it’s a sedative, but also a stimulant. It knocks you out, so you sleep, but then it wakes you up earlier than you want to. It disturbs the REM part of sleep, which is important to our emotional well-being.
So, just be careful when you’re drinking alcohol. You might be fine with one glass but with a full bottle, you’re going to struggle with menopause-related sleep problems.
Menopause and night sweats
One of the most common symptoms we’re aware of when it comes to living with menopause is night sweats. The temperature fluctuations and the hot flushes make for a terrible night’s sleep. It can also be quite embarrassing how sweaty we get during the night, but there are things we can do to relieve this common symptom.
1. Room Temperature
First of all, let’s start with the room. The temperature of the room should be 16 to 18 degrees. That can be a little bit cold for some people but having a room that feels cooler when you walk into it allows your body to create the drop in core temperature that you need before bed.
More important than the room is the temperature between the mattress and the duvet.
Let’s start with duvets – you should have separate duvets! If you’re sleeping under a duvet with a partner and you’re getting night sweats, you need to go out and buy separate duvets. It makes a massive difference.
Think about it, they’re laying next to you, their body heat is coming onto your side of the bed, making you hotter and hotter. With two duvets, they can have a heavy tog duvet if they’re cold, you can have a light tog duvet, or even a sheet if you’re hot. Everyone is happier!
Whether it’s your duvet, your bedding or your sleepwear, the material they’re made out of is really important.
For example, cotton is really good for temperature fluctuations to allow our bodies to breathe. But bear in mind, the higher the thread count with cotton, the worse it performs in terms of keeping us cool. A high thread count cotton is more likely to trap the heat in. Cotton is also not great at wicking away moisture. It absorbs it well, but it doesn’t get it out of your sleep environment.
A great alternative when it comes to sleepwear and bedding is bamboo. I love bamboo, it absorbs moisture and wicks it away really efficiently. Silk is also good, but a bit hard to look after. You need to be delicate – if you put it in the washing machine, you could shrink it. It’s pretty expensive as well.
Menopause and pre-sleep routines
When we’re trying to improve our sleep, one of the areas we should look at is our pre-sleep routine. Those rituals before bed tell your body it’s time to go to sleep. When we’re doing that pre-sleep routine, we need to be focused on two things – a drop in core temperature and a drop in heart rate.
1. Cooling down
To help drop your core temperature, you could try a bath or shower. A warm bath or shower raises your core temperature slightly, so when you step out of the bath or shower, it falls. This helps the body recognise that it’s time to go to sleep. If you haven’t got time for a bath or shower, you could try a hot water bottle full of warm water. Put your bare feet on it as it raises your core temperature. When you take your feet off, your core temperature will drop.
2. Winding down
The biggest mistake we make in our pre-sleep routine is that we’ll be on the sofa thinking, ‘I feel sleepy’, but then we’ll start doing stuff. We’ll go and let the pets out. We’ll come into the kitchen, we’ll empty the dishwasher, we’ll fill the dishwasher. Then we’ll go upstairs and we’ll brush our teeth, go into the bedroom, put our pyjamas on, and we’ll get into bed. But now, we don’t feel sleepy…
Your body’s now screaming at you, ‘I was sleepy 20 minutes ago’. It thought you wanted to be awake, so it gave you the cortisol you need to stay awake.
To adopt a better pre-sleep routine, you need to be ready for bed before you feel tired. So, as soon as you feel sleepy, you go to bed. Remember, sleep is not a time, it’s a feeling.
Think about what you’re doing before bed. If you’re looking at social media and checking out what people who annoyed you from school have been up to, that’ll make you angry, and that raises your heart rate. That’s not good for you. If you look at work emails just before you go to bed, your brain will start whirring… You’ll start thinking about work and that makes sleep more difficult.
3. Content consumption
When it comes to our pre-sleep routine, our rituals should make us feel relaxed and often our devices are blamed for our poor sleep. However, it’s not the device that’s the problem, it’s the choices that you make.
Think about what content you’re consuming before bed. Is it funny, your favourite rom-com or your favourite sitcom? Perfect! Is it repetitive? On Bake Off, they’re going to bake a cake. You know what’s going to happen, you don’t have to think about it too much. Something trashy or something that makes you feel better about yourself. All these things help drop your heart rate, which helps you feel relaxed and prepares you for sleep.