If you look back over the last few weeks and months, do you reckon you’ve had enough sleep? I’m talking about an uninterrupted 7–8 hours a night where you jump out of bed feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
Or are you part of the two thirds of adults who struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep each night?
Often we find it easy to get to sleep, but by 3am we’re wide awake worrying about clean school uniforms, do we have milk for breakfast, the dog’s vet appointment, and what’s for dinner.
So why aren’t you sleeping? Could it be your hormones?
Sleep disturbance often occurs during the premenstrual phase of your cycle and may occur as a result of the drop in progesterone just before your period.
Sleep disruption is also common in perimenopause and menopause when your hormones are like a rollercoaster.
In perimenopause our progesterone declines causing a shift in our brain, which may result in sleep issues.
Both oestrogen and progesterone decline in menopause, and losing oestrogen may cause changes in our circadian rhythm, which affect sleep patterns.
So what are the consequences of lack of sleep?
You may have noticed that your cravings increase when you’re tired, particularly for unhealthy foods. Sleep plays a role in regulating ghrelin, which stimulates appetite, and leptin, which decreases it.
When the body is deprived of sleep, the level of ghrelin spikes while leptin levels fall, leading to an increase in hunger.
Eating too much can lead to disruptions in your sleep as your body devotes energy to digesting your meal.
Digestion slows down during sleep, putting your need for sleep at odds with your body’s digestion system, so make sure you finish your meal a few hours before bedtime.
Inadequate sleep also disrupts blood sugar, which can lead to an afternoon slump in energy, and, even more annoyingly, can cause you to wake at approximately 3am and struggle to get back to sleep.
Sleep also provides vital support to the immune system. Routinely getting sufficient hours of good quality sleep enables a well-balanced immune response, which is required to carry out the vital role of protecting us from pesky invaders and keeping us healthy.
Lack of sleep can result in feeling fuzzy-headed, forgetful, and struggling to concentrate.
Sleep can help the brain consolidate memory and learning; when you’re sleeping, your brain is literally sorting the wheat from the chaff by removing the toxins and waste products that occur as a result of our natural cellular processes.
When we sleep, the brain is hard at work clearing debris that can impact the functioning of our nerve cells, as well as processing our emotions from the day.
How Can You Improve Your Sleep?
You will be familiar with many of the rules of sleep hygiene such as reducing alcohol, only drinking coffee in the morning, not eating too late at night, and not sleeping in a hot room, but there are a few important ones that I would like to mention:
- Stick to a sleep schedule. Aim to go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day. This helps to reset your circadian rhythm and tells the body when it is time to go to sleep.
If you only take one bit of advice from this blog, make it this one!
2. Limit electronic devices 2–3 hours before bedtime in order to restrict exposure to blue light, which disrupts your circadian rhythm making it difficult to sleep.
If this is a problem for you then invest in a good quality pair of blue-light-blocking glasses. You can actually see the blue light being blocked in the lens.
3. Remove screens from the bedroom, and this includes TV; your bedroom should be a sanctuary and a place to relax.
4. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime. Finish your exercise at least 2–3 hours before you go to bed.
5. Aim to minimise stress. I know this is easier said than done, but going to bed with stress hormones coursing around your body really will affect the quality of your sleep.
6. Deep breathing, meditation and mindfulness may help aid a restful night.
Sleep can be elusive, particularly in midlife due to all the hormonal shifts we experience.
Melatonin, our sleep hormone, naturally declines as we age, and we have to work that bit harder to ensure a good night’s sleep than we did when we were in our 20s and 30s.
Sleep is one of the key pillars of health and is essential for physical, mental and emotional wellbeing so do try to put these simple strategies for a better night’s sleep into place.
Deirdre Egan is a Registered Nutritional Therapist, Empowerment Coach, and Nutrition Lecturer focusing on empowering women to regain their sparkle in perimenopause. Find me on Facebook , Instagram or visit my Website .