Insomnia is a common concern among pre-menopause and menopausal women, affecting up to 56 percent of women. Difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, awakening during the night, or waking feeling tired are the characteristic features of insomnia. For some women, the hot flashes caused by hormonal changes in menopause can disrupt sleep. For others, insomnia may be triggered by stress, diet, medications or poor sleep habits. Regardless of the cause, a lack of sleep can take a toll on your health.
The exact amount of sleep required is thought to be between seven and nine hours nightly. Getting less than six hours is associated with health problems, such as memory loss, poor concentration, depression, headache, irritability, increased response to stress, high blood pressure, depressed immune function, low libido and weight gain.
There are a few dietary strategies that can improve sleep. Try a light snack before bed of a food that contains tryptophan. This amino acid stimulates the release of serotonin and makes you feel sleepy. Examples include: turkey, chicken, soy foods or whole grain crackers or cereal. A warm glass of milk is an old-time remedy for sleep and there is actually some basis to this. Milk contains certain proteins that aid sleep and the calcium in milk helps promote muscle relaxation. Caffeine (coffee, tea, pop, and chocolate) can affect sleep quality, and should be avoided 8 hours before bed time. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it causes nighttime wakening and reduces sleep quality, so minimize or avoid it completely. Go easy on sugary foods (cookies, candy) especially in the evening as these foods can cause a sugar-rush and affect your ability to fall asleep.
Developing good sleep habits is essential. Consider the following:
- Set aside at least 7 to 8 hours for sleep. Leaving only 5 or 6 hours may make you feel stressed and impact your ability to fall asleep.
- Establish a regular bed and wake time and try to follow this routine even on the weekends.
- Do relaxing activities before bedtime – read a book, listen to relaxing music or have a warm bath.
- Reserve your bedroom for intimacy and sleep only; don’t work in your bedroom.
- Make your bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable.
- Exercise regularly early in the day. Vigorous activity in the evening can be stimulating and impair sleep.
- Don’t smoke – nicotine is a stimulant and impairs your ability to fall asleep and have a restful sleep.
- Consider acupuncture, massage, yoga and meditation to promote relaxation
Prescription sedatives should only be used when all else fails as they are addictive and cause numerous side effects, including impairment in short term memory.
A natural sleeping aid can help without the side effects that prescription sleeping pills can. Look for a product with the following ingredients:
- 5-HTP: 5-hydroxytryptophan increases serotonin and melatonin levels which promotes relaxation and better sleep
- L-theanine: an amino acid found in green tea which reduces stress, promotes relaxation and improves sleep
- Melatonin: a hormone naturally secreted by the brain that regulates our sleep/wake cycles.
A natural sleep aid can help reduce the time needed to fall asleep, reduce nighttime wakening and improve sleep quality.