I'm a good sleeper!
That may not be the way to start off a blog if you're reading this and you're tired and frustrated about your lack of sleep and how it's affecting you, but hang on....
The moment I can sleep, or I have nights of heavily interrupted sleep I'm a nightmare. It feels like it's the end of the world and my sleep isn't coming back, I don't function and I get very moody. I need my sleep, and a fair amount of it, and on hitting menopause it kept disappearing on me, and I was most unhappy about that.
I meet some amazing people who seem to function on very little sleep, Maggie Thatcher famously only had 4 hours a night and she was post menopause when she was the Prime Minster, but I think she was an exception to the rule. Most of us only function well when we've had a solid nights sleep and this is what we're going to look at today.
Whilst you're asleep your body aims to do some 'healing' of its own, so if you don't have that downtime, maintenance tasks in your body don't get done. This leads to a level of toxicity in your system, and an inability to relax, and can not only cause extreme fatigue, but mood swings and anxiety as well as poor digestion and physical health and wellbeing.
You need that shut off time overnight especially to aid your body to replenish and never so more than during the years leading up to and during the menopause.
Let's look at some major reasons and most importantly some guidance on what you can do:
REASON 1 - NIGHT SWEATS
There are those that wake up and have to have a shower in the middle of the night, those that need to throw covers on/off and on again, and then there are those that may not wake but are still affected - let me explain. For all of us, we will heat up between about 1 and 3am all our lives, male or female and this is due to the liver running its cleansing process. This is the time of night that the liver cleans your blood, removing the toxins of the day. Any sugars that are in your blood stream at this time of night will also be processed into either energy or to be stored as belly fat. If the sugars turn to energy you can wake up around 4 ish, and feel wide awake.
Tip to reduce night sweats:
Look to your evening meal - eat earlier, remove processed foods and refined carbs, alcohol, caffeine
REASON 2 - LACK OF MAGNESIUM
Fitful sleep can be induced by your body not having the nutrients it requires. Symptoms like restless legs, headaches, achy muscles and cramps are all signs that your body needs something. If a pain was keeping you awake you'd address the pain. A lot of these symptoms are your body trying to tell you there is something wrong. At the end of an exhausting day, you should fall asleep and stay asleep, so if your body is waking you up it really is telling you it needs help. Magnesium is responsible for over 300 processes in your body, most of them are repair and rejuvenation and what better time to do this than when you're curled up and asleep. If your body won't let you sleep it's because it's trying to let you know that it needs something to help it do its repairing.
Tip for sleep nutrition:
You can take Magnesium in the morning and/or the evening. In the evening (with dinner) it is then in your system ready to help your body repair over night. Magnesium can also be massaged into muscles that may cramp with an oil or cream.
REASON 3 - YOUR BRAIN WON'T SHUT DOWN
Either you can't get to sleep for a racing brain, or you wake after a 90 minute sleep cycle and your brain is ready to go again. In Chinese Medicine this is a 'wood' energy, it's also a creative energy, so a lot of people can do their best work between 10pm and 1am. However if you need to get to sleep to get up on time this really isn't helpful.
Tips to calm your brain:
Luckily there are a few here, you always see about lavender and chamomile essential oil based products and that may work for some of you, and can definitely support the other tips here (or their maybe other scents that relax you, I'm partial to Neom's sleep mist). I suggest this, physically calming your brain with a couple of methods as we're trying to stop those racing thoughts, right?
Here we go:
Keep a notepad or equivalent by the bed just to write down those things you mustn't forget
If you're thinking about something, and you can't let go of it, ask yourself the question 'Is there really anything I can do about it?' If the answer is no, let it go. If the answer is yes, jot it in the notepad, then let it go too.
Emotional issues - thinking negative thoughts or holding on to the issues of the day, only affects you, not anyone else. Replace what you are thinking with something important that you are really grateful for. Think about this and only this, think about how feeling this grateful really makes you feel? This will calm your brain down, and you can induce sleepiness this way
Breathing technique - to slow down your respiration, exhale for longer than you inhale. For example if you inhale for 4, exhale for 8. It doesn't matter the numbers so much as long as breathing out is longer.
REASON 4 - YOU WOKE UP COLD
A lot of people don't realise this one, but its pretty important if you've chucked off the covers in the night, for your sleep and for your neck and shoulder muscles. Reason 1 was that you woke with the liver processing heat, and this is now the opposite of that, the liver processing has shut down and you've woken up because on some level your body has registered the cold. This is the time to pull those covers up over your shoulders because in cooling down and leaving muscles exposed they're now susceptible to getting a chill in them. Also your lower back/kidneys (just under the bottom ribs) don't want to get cold either. When we register being hot sometimes its only certain parts of the body, and the back gets forgotten about, and then gets a chill. If you wake up with stiff neck and shoulders or back pain this is what could be happening in the night.
Then it may be time to look at your mattress as well!
Tip to keep the cold out:
Have something to hand to pull back over, if not the covers then at least something that covers your waist to your neck. Your kidneys really benefit from keeping warm so if they get cold in the night your body may struggle to replenish you on a deep level.
REASON 5 - YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM ISN'T RELAXING
Something can wake you up at 4am but then something else can keep you awake from 4am. This is why Insomnia can be complex, it is no one thing, but many things, and all need to be resolved to give you the complete nights sleep that you crave. So you're lying there around 4am and your mind maybe blank or it maybe whirring, which ever it is still your nervous system not relaxing into a deep constitutional sleep.
If your mind is whirring, adopt the tips I had in Reason 3 as well as what I'm about to tell you. If you wake and your mind is blank but you lie there willing yourself to go back to sleep this is most likely an indicator of 2 things - too much energy in your system waking you up and the inability of your nervous system to relax.
The excess energy has come from your dinner the night before, so simplyfying your last meal of the day to remove carbohydrates such as pasta, rice and potatoes, as well as the more obvious refined sugars really does make a difference. Try going to bed feeling slightly hungry and see if there is a difference.
The other aspect is that you're in such a fatigued state that you nervous system is too wired to switch off and relax. A tell tale sign of this during the day is that you can't sit down and relax, like watching an hour long tv programme without fidgeting or having to get up and do something. If you're unable to relax during the day, you're also unable to relax during the night.
Nutritional Tip to aid relaxation of your nerves:
Ashwaganda and Rhodiola Rosea are both forms of stress adaptogens. These are plant based supplements that help your adrenals calm down. Even if you don't have anxiety during the day but do wake and worry in the early hours, these will help you your body learn to switch off. This will in time replenish your deep constitutional energy.
REASON 6 - TOO MUCH EXERCISE?
Bet you didn't see this one coming! How can that be? I've exhausted myself during the day, I'm tired, I've gone to bed and crashed, so now why am I wide awake? This is is similar to reason 5, your nervous system can't relax. If you tend to do a lot of daily exercise with high impact or long distance you may want to alternate with more eastern and restorative exercise like Yoga and Qi Gong. These calm your systems down and allow your body to replenish, and both styles have short breathing forms that allow you to do these in the middle of the night. Check out on You Tube.
I'M HERE TO HELP
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K N O W L E D G E . P A U S E . F L O U R I S H
Andrea is a Shiatsu and Chinese Medicine Practitioner who has specialised in helping women alleviate symptoms and understand perimenopause from the earliest signs. Since shocked but relieved to find out all her symptoms were menopause related 5 years ago she has dedicated her business to helping women find relief, she aims to help you 'Blossom in Your Menopause'.
Read more about how Andrea at Cotswold Menopause can help you here