Wholefoods, Women

What’s keeping you awake during the menopause?

What’s keeing you awake during the menopause? You may be surprised!

It’s no secret that when women go through the menopause, or even in the years leading up to it, known as peri-menopause, sleep can become a real issue.  There are many hormonal changes which adversely affect a woman’s sleep during this time, and having hot flushes, caused by hormonal fluctuations, can be especially troublesome.

What we eat and drink particularly last thing at night before going to bed can stop us going to sleep or sleeping well, and women need to be really mindful of this in order to get some much-needed rest. Eating spicy foods, including curry, is not a good idea as they can cause acid regurgitation and heartburn, which isn’t helped when laying down. Some spices, such as chillies, can increase your body temperature and make you feel warm, so preventing sleep. And of course, this effect is worsened during the menopause.  A heavy fatty meal close to bedtime can also cause acid regurgitation when you lie down. This is because a fatty meal takes longer to digest and can cause discomfort when you’re trying to sleep. 

The best advice if troublesome foods are on the menu is to stick to eating anything fatty or spicy earlier in the evening and infrequently, or avoid completely for a while to see if symptoms improve.

Thinking of grabbing a tea and biscuit before bed? Less healthy food (which includes biscuits, sugar sweetened beverages, fast food, confectionery) consumption is associated with shorter sleep. Plus, caffeine is a stimulant so will certainly prevent much-needed rest. And don’t forget that even decaffeinated versions of tea and coffee still contain a small amount of caffeine.

Sugar containing fizzy drinks will certainly keep you awake drinking too close to bedtime.  However, even having some earlier in the day may still be difficult for some people.  Women going through the menopause tend to be more sensitive to foods and drinks in any case.  What used to be fine is now not, unfortunately. 

You might want to reach for a glass of milk at bedtime but there’s no strong evidence that it will either stop you sleeping or as is sometimes thought, help you to sleep. Milk does contain the amino acid tryptophan which is needed to produce melatonin, the sleep hormone, which is positive, although more research is needed to reach a definite conclusion. Having said that, many people find having a warm drink with a beverage containing hops to be helpful. Chocolate last thing at night – or in the middle of night if you decide to eat chocolate because you can’t sleep – will not help you to sleep as it also contains caffeine.  In caffeine-sensitive people, even a couple of squares may keep you awake. 

There is an idea that certain fruit and vegetables can keep you awake. Vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts have been reported in the media to stop people going to sleep, but science does not back this up.  However, imbalances of blood sugar can often wake people around 3 am.  You can help prevent this by having a few slices of apple and some almonds before bedtime. Indeed, almonds are another good source of the amino acid tryptophan.

What can help you to sleep?

The herb Valerian has been used since the Middle Ages to help with sleep. Compounds in valerian such as valerenic acid and valerenol act on GABA receptors. GABA is a nerve transmitter that helps to regulate sleep. Compounds in valerian may also interact with receptors for serotonin, which is metabolised to produce melatonin. Another herb, Passionflower has also been shown to interact with GABA rectors and in this way, may help people to sleep for longer.

Develop a pre-bedtime routine that helps you relax – listen to calming music, read a gentle book, have a warm bath and/or practice meditation. Identify the bedroom temperature which is comfortable for you – not too hot, not too cold – and stick to it. Some people have an issue dissipating heat from the body at night and a warm bedroom interferes with sleep. Simple things such as spraying the pillow with lavender really helps some people too.

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