10 tips on how to get to sleep and stay asleep
“In the heat of The Night”. A sentiment that many of us relate to as we force ourselves out from under the duvet as the alarm sounds, heralding a new day. Menopause night sweats, anxiety and insomnia may leave you feeling anything but refreshed to face the challenges of the day.
The Sleep Council (yes there’s such a thing) say we should be getting between 7-8 hours sleep a night with men appearing to enjoy better quality sleep than women.
To help women sleep better we’ve looked at some long and short term tips on how to get to sleep and crucially, to stay asleep. We all know we should get more and better quality sleep but it's easier said than done. Following these 10 Hot Tips may help.
· Block out light! It suppresses the production of the essential sleep hormone, melatonin. Wear an eye mask, put up blackout curtains or blinds.
· Keep the bedroom an average temperature of 18-21 degree Celsius. A room that’s too hot stops your core temperature reducing and switching on the ‘sleep mechanism’. It’ll also make those hot flushes feel a whole lot worse.
· Night wear for night fever! If sweats are a problem, wear moisture-wicking PJs to keep cool. We like some of the offerings by Canadian brand Lusome, a little less granny jammie than other brands. As a rule, look for PJs made from bamboo fabric, it's moisture-wicking and anti-bacterial. Or substitute sportswear for PJs to absorb moisture.
· Try a calming pillow spray such as L’Occitane Relaxing Pillow Mist (£14 uk.loccitane.com).
· Chill out with a cooling gel filled pillow. A quick online search will reveal plenty of choice.
· Like the royal subject of Hans Christian Anderson’s Princess and the Pea, we all need a comfy mattress, it’s the bedrock of a good sleep. Maybe time for an upgrade? Or invest in a specialist mattress protector that's both absorbent and helps air to circulate.
· Tidy bedroom, tidy mind! You'll feel less anxious and maybe wake up less (and if you do, you'll at least feel less stressed by less mess!).
Snooze, win or lose?
It’s both. According to NASA research, the optimum length of a power nap is 26 minutes. NASA also found pilots’ efficiency improved by 34% when they took a short nap. Now you can snooze safely in the knowledge that these short naps can have a positive effect on your well-being but don’t be tempted to sleep for longer or you’ll get into a deeper sleep cycle which can impact on getting to sleep at night. HF have tried this and we've noticed that we feel perkier and refreshed when we wake up.
Can exercise help with sleep?
The Sleep Foundation say that exercise may help reduce insomnia by ‘decreasing arousal, anxiety and depressive symptoms’. Exercise triggers an increase in body temperature and the drop-in temperature post-exercise helps you to fall into a blissful sleep. Maximise the benefits by exercising 5-6 hours before going to bed so that your body is cooling down just as you’re lying down, ready to sleep. For those days when you haven’t exercised do some gentle stretching exercises before bed. See Yoga with Annie - Relaxation & Breathing Exercises.
Fibre-rich foods to fuel fabulous sleep?
Dr Michael Mosley’s BBC documentary, ‘The Truth About Sleep’, cited a study that found upping fibre intake improves the quality of sleep, making you less likely to wake up in the night than those who eat more diets high in saturated fat and sugar. (Conversely, poor sleep may lead to cravings for these foods, and you’re trapped in a cycle). Fibre is found in pasta, oats, peas, lentils, broccoli, artichokes. Nutritionist Joy Skipper says overall, we’re not eating enough fibre. Increasing intake won’t just help with sleep, but prevent heart disease, type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Big meals before bedtime should be avoided, so try not to eat within three hours of going to bed to optimise melatonin and blood sugar levels.
Can a kiwi or two help you sleep?
A 2009 study by Taiwan Taipei Medical University found that eating two kiwi fruits before bed may help you to fall asleep more quickly, more soundly and for a little longer. Kiwis have high levels of antioxidants and serotonin both linked with sleep. If natural, cheap kiwis can boost your sleep, it might be worth considering.
Magnesium for blissful sleep?
This magnificent mineral has a myriad of benefits, one of which may be to improve sleep quality by supporting the calming neurotransmitters that the brain uses to switch off and go to sleep. The magnesium supplement, Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm ‘The Anti-Stress Drink’ (£19 Amazon), is a favourite for insomniacs, a flavoured or unflavoured powder that you sprinkle into a glass of water before bed. (Be aware that for a minority it can have a laxative effect).
If you tend to lie in bed with your mind racing around tomorrow's tasks or going over what you didn’t get done today, set aside time before going to bed to review the day and make plans for the next day. You’ll have the next day’s ‘to do’ list done, acknowledged your worries and be more in the zone for getting some decent shut eye.
Time for bed…
· Disconnect from electronic devices at least 60 minutes before bed to help you wind down. Leave your phone out of the bedroom as that little screen emits sleep-bothering blue light which suppresses production of the essential sleep hormone, melatonin. Less technology means more of the good stuff, melatonin.
· We’re creatures of habit. Stick to the same sleep schedule, consistency is good for your body clock.
· Take a relaxing bath, adding a soothing essential oil to bath oil, shower gel or burning in a diffuser. We love the aromatic Frankincense Essential Oil from Neil’s Yard, a little pricey but a little goes a long way (£16).
· Listen to calming mindful meditation apps like Headspace, or Calm, they help to train your brain to relax.
· Limit spicy food, caffeine and alcohol intake to help you to get to sleep and stay asleep.
· Sleepy Body Lotion by Lush (£7.95-£13.95) has insomniacs raving about it. Contains cocoa butter, oatmeal body lotion, infused with lavender oil, tonka and ylang ylang. Lush say you will ‘sleep well’ after using it.
The sound of silence
If you’re a light sleeper or sensitive to noise such as your partner’s snoring, wear earplugs or noise cancelling headphones (they may also help to deal with hormone-induced tinnitus). Cozyphones Sleep Headphones (£16 Amazon) are fitted into a lycra headband to block out external noise (or to play your soothing music or ebook). Use the silence to practice calming breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. Try systematically focussing on individual parts of the body by clenching and releasing the muscles. Start with one foot, squeeze it as tightly as possible, let go and feel the sense of relaxation. Move upwards through your body, repeating this action going all the way up and then right down to your other foot. You may have fallen asleep before you get there!
If you suffer night sweats, you may be familiar with adrenaline rushes or 'power surges' that jolt you awake just in time to experience the horrors of a night sweat. Decreasing hormones are to blame! If lifestyle changes or supplements don't help and you can take HRT, providing synthetic versions of these diminishing hormone, may be something for you to consider. However, HRT has its’ pros and cons, and there are natural alternatives to consider such as black cohosh, red clover or sage. See our Symptoms pages Hot Flushes (add link), Sleepless Nights & Insomnia or our Hot Stuff blog, ‘11 Supplements to Relieve Menopause Symptoms’ (add link).