Many women know only too well the challenges when it comes to menopause and sleep. With a special interest in women’s health and menopause, Dr Marion Sloan answers some of the most commonly asked questions.
She also shares her own Sleep Kit – including a glass of very fine sounding red wine. Dr Marion, we approve.
How common is insomnia in the menopause?
Very. It’s a fact that hours of sleep decline throughout life. Babies sleep 20 out of 24 hours. Octogenarians sleep about five hours out of 24. So it’s downhill all the way!
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Middle years in women, from 35 to 60, can be very unsettled in terms of hormonal change. This is on top of social change. Toddlers with tantrums become teenagers with angst and temper. Parents may become less able and need more assistance. Work life may be demanding and we need to be able to think straight. So a good night’s sleep is important to be able to keep the whole show on the road.
Does it go away? Yes. There is life after the menopause. The body reaches a new steady state. The ovaries become increasingly sleepy but the small amount of oestrogen and testosterone from the adrenal gland takes over. A new balance becomes established and sleep patterns settle.
Why is it difficult to sleep in the menopause?
The problem is that the hormone levels are lurching about. Some days the body is in freefall. On others, the levels are higher and everything seems ok.
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It is very unsettling and it is different from anything the body has experienced before. It’s not well understood, not talked about and not really properly recognised. Until now that is! This year has seen an explosion of interest in menopause matters and a upsurge of compassion and understanding.
There are both oestrogen and progesterone receptors in the brain. This is why the progesterone component of HRT is given at night. The side effect of progesterone is drowsiness, so it’s a win-win. The brain oestrogen receptors benefit too.
Sleep can be really disturbed by night sweats and flushes. I know women who get up in the night and change the sheets. Others who sleep separately from their partners. Others who throw the bedding off causing frostbite risk to their significant other.
What helps with menopause insomnia?
In a word. HRT.
Not everyone can have HRT but most women can and this is why it’s important to talk to a healthcare professional.
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Oestrogen “turns the clock back”. The aches and pains, free floating anxiety, brain fog and disturbed nights can be a thing of the past. The vagina becomes better oestrogenised and sex is no longer painful. Normal sexual relationships can be re-established Sleep patterns are no longer disturbed by sweats and the demands of the bladder.
Lifestyle is important too. Thirty minutes of exercise five days a week and eating 30 different plants per week will help. Lifestyle in middle years determines how well we age in both men and women.
Clearspring Organic Hatcho Miso, £5.55
I like Hatcho Miso, made by Sanchi. This Japanese soya bean paste is aged for three years in cedar wood kegs, piled high with rocks, creating the heartiest of misos. The tasty mixture introduces probiotics into the gut to support a vibrant diverse microbiome. This enables bacteria to thrive in the bowel, producing serotonin and dopamine, the feel good hormones that support natural sleep.
Bimuno Daily, £19.99
I was introduced to Bimuno a few years ago at a Primary Care Society for Gastroenterology event and I’ve been taking it ever since.
Developed by the University of Reading, Bimuno is a prebiotic (not to be confused with a probiotic) in the form of a supplement. It contains galactooligosaccharides (GOS) which are derived from lactose.
I add a sachet to my porridge to support the diversity of bacteria which thrive in the soluble fibres from the porridge making its way down the gastrointestinal tract. These ‘good’ bacteria switch genes on and off to maintain a stable hormone background.
Laithwaites Cabalie, £11.99
As the sun goes down over the yard arm, I enjoy a glass of red Laithwaites Cabalie. I can feel it doing me good as the antioxidants sort out that wicked cholesterol.
Using largely Grenache grapes, with the additions of herb scented Syrah and scented with Cinsault, Cabalie is wonderfully rich with a ripe berry taste and aroma. It’s justifiably won lots of awards and is crafted by Herve Sabardeil in the ancient vineyard region of Roussillon.
My Little Sudocrem, £3
I don’t believe in expensive skincare creams. Call me old fashioned but I think you can find wonderful products in less fancy jars that do the job just as well.
I also think Sudocrem is great for the odd spot. It’s a multi-tasking skincare product that’s inexpensive and unbelievably good.
Another favourite is Cien Q10 Night Cream by Lidl. It’s non-greasy, smells great and I enjoy the ritual of applying it to my wrinkles in the vain hope of a miracle. It also lasts a long time and at under £2 a pot is a fraction of the price of more glamorous products.
The White Company Bed Linen, from a selection.
My extravagance is bed linen. I love to crash out into crisp cotton sheets from The White Company. Their luxury Egyptian-cotton fitted sheets are smooth, sumptuous, keep you warm in Winter and cool in Summer.
If you’re waking up in the night feeling hot and bothered then natural fabric can make a big difference. I think the White Company makes beautiful bed linen. With my practical hat on, I appreciate that the sheets and duvets wash well so. I think it’s worth the investment. Besides, sometimes you have to be crazy but kind to oneself!