Let’s be real for a moment…we women endure a lot. We hold a lot on our shoulders and a ton is expected of us every day. And in menopause, things can be even harder. Sleep disturbances in menopause are real, and they can have profound effects on how we feel, and what our days are like. This is Christy, Co-Founder of Sage+Sisters, writing, and I want to be really transparent today about the profound personal effect that sleep (or the lack of sleep) can have on us, particularly in perimenopause and menopause.
I am really fortunate. I have a roof over my head, a comfortable bed, a job that keeps me busy during the day and not at night, and healthy food that I can eat at a reasonable hour. But that doesn’t mean things can’t be really hard sometimes. Sleep can make all the difference, so it’s a serious priority for me. Let’s delve a bit deeper.
I have a pretty organized + clear sleep regimen, in which I ideally:
- …don’t drink caffeine after noon, and I try to only have one caffeinated cup of tea a day (the rest is decaf.)
- …try to eat dinner at 6–or at least before 7–in the hopes of having 3 hours between eating and sleeping.
- …am pretty much DONE with “life” after dinner…and spend the rest of the evening winding down. That might be reading or laundry or watching a show (I know that’s screen time…but it does help me chill out.)
- …start getting ready for bed at 9. I wash up, which honestly takes me forever, but it’s ok–I like the regimen and it feels necessary and like I am taking care of myself.
- …take 2 magnesium tablets (400 mg total) and a Hilma.
- …climb into bed, set my phone down, and read. I read until I feel sleepy, which is usually about 10-20 minutes.
- …try to pee a few times in there just to eliminate the strong likelihood that I will need to get up to pee during the night.
- …try to be asleep by 10 pm. I put on an eye mask, which makes a big difference to me, keeping the light out and signaling to my brain that it is sleep time.
- …set my alarm for 6:10, but I often wake up at about 5 and doze between 5 and 6:10.
The REAL behind sleep patterns…
IF this all goes well and I sleep pretty deeply, I feel good! I can handle the craziness of life…My 3 jobs, my 2 college-aged kids and their needs, my husband, our house, and all the things that go along with that, scheduling life and paying bills, elderly parents, maintaining friendships, staying up to date with the world, the dog, the 3 additional dogs I sometimes babysit. I’m not saying that if I sleep well the rest of this goes perfectly, but I can manage the big ups and downs. And the chaos. Mostly!
However, if I don’t sleep well, all hell breaks loose, people. I’m serious. This is my Real.
Too-few hours of sleep is the main cause for me of a “bad night’s sleep”. But it can also happen because I’ve had two drinks before bed, or one drink 2+ nights in a row. Or because my husband is snoring or tossing and turning. I can sleep badly if my dog wakes me up. Which she sometimes does twice in a night. Sometimes three times. It can happen because I’ve–all week–just gotten a bit behind every night. So, in other words, instead of eight hours a night, it’s been like seven for three nights and counting. This really catches up for me. I REALLY need eight hours.
And when I don’t sleep, well, everything feels like it crashes down. I am droopy. My energy is too low to get done what I need to get done. I feel bluesy. And irritable and cranky. I am not my best self with my family, or my boss, or my anything. My brain doesn’t think fast enough. It’s really rough. And then it takes me the rest of the week to catch up and restore. It’s really crazy how dramatic it feels. But it’s real. Good sleep for me is truly essential to feeling good and performing at my best.
So let’s break a bit of this down further.
Alcohol and Sleep
You may have noticed that two of the causes of my “bad sleep” had to do with alcohol. It’s a huge bummer, but alcohol during menopause disrupts sleep. Period. Ugh–I hate it!!! I used to have a glass (or occasionally 2) of wine maybe 5 nights a week. Not possible any more! Now I probably have 4 glasses a week spread over 3 nights. I need to have more alcohol-free nights than nights where I drink in order to sleep well.
The reason behind this is that when we consume simple carbohydrates (alcohol, refined carbs/processed foods, and sweets), we experience acute ups and downs in our blood sugar. Our blood sugar rises quickly and insulin increases as well in order to move the sugar out of the blood and into our cells. In fact, insulin can lower blood sugar to the point where sugar levels in our brains drop too far. This in turn triggers compensatory hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, and awakens us from sleep with heart palpitations, anxiety, and hunger (Gangwisch, 2020.) Sadly, in perimenopause and menopause, our metabolism changes and our blood sugar often requires support, meaning that many of us need to drink less in order to sleep well. And when we experience insomnia, we struggle more with our everyday tasks, our quality of life, and our mental and medical health are reduced, and our risks of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality increases (Farhadnejad, H. et al, 2023.)
Mocktails and Kombucha!
My biggest recommendation on the drinking front is kombucha and mocktails! I love kombucha and find that it makes me feel really good, is full of probiotics, and doesn’t disrupt my sleep at all. It feels like a special treat and is something I can enjoy during the cocktail hour and feel like I’m celebrating the end of the day. As for mocktails, we have to be careful–as in all things, including kombucha–in terms of sugar. There are a few pre-made mocktails that I like, such as Mocktail Club Havana Twist. We also love Hops Water at Sage+Sisters, which is a bit of an acquired taste, but totally pleasantly addictive.
Sleep Aids and Supplements
Why Hilma? This is my favorite natural sleep supplement. It contains magnesium, passionflower, reishi mushrooms, and L-Theanine. Magnesium is an essential mineral shown to regulate the circadian rhythm. Passionflower is an herb clinically proven to promote longer, quality sleep. Reishi mushrooms are adaptogenic mushrooms that have been shown to support longer sleep time. And finally, L-Theanine is is an amino acid that reduces the amount of time it takes to fall asleep as well as the frequency of sleep disturbance. I like this combination of herbs more than any other I’ve tried because it doesn’t have any side effects for me, like making me feel droopy in the morning or waking me up in the middle of the night. When I take it, I find that I typically sleep deeply and wake feeling refreshed.
I also find that the routine that I’ve developed makes the biggest difference. Obviously there are times that we are out with friends or at a show or something and get to bed late. But the norm is the 9 p.m. start of my bedtime routine. My body knows to start slowing down, and I think that allows me to fall asleep much more quickly than if I varied my bedtime from night to night.
Sleepytime Spiced Vanilla Hemp Milk
CBD oil can help promote sleep, as can hemp hearts. Warm non-caffeinated beverages can also help calm our nervous systems. Cinnamon helps prevent blood sugar spikes and can therefore can also help you stay asleep.
- 2 Tbsp. hemp hearts
- 1 date
- 1 tsp. raw honey
- 1 tsp. vanila
- 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. cardamom
- pinch Salt
- 1 cup water
- Dropper of CBD oil
- Blend all ingredients in a vitamix or blender until smooth.
- Pour into a saucepan and heat until warm–DO NOT BOIL.
- Pour into a mug and enjoy. You may add lavender flowers if you’d like! They also promote sleep!
Finally, when the body sleeps well, it sleeps better more often. So if you can get a routine that works for you, stick with it, prioritize sleep, and it will pay off long-term in terms of your health, longevity, and day-to-day functioning.
Share in the comments below what works for YOU in terms of getting a good night’s sleep!!!
Farhadnejad, H. et al. (2023). The association of dietary glycemic index and glycemic load with the risk of insomnia in the adult population. BMC Nutrition, 9 (28). https://bmcnutr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40795-023-00689-x#:~:text=Moreover%2C%20a%20study%20conducted%20on,%2DGI%20meal%20%5B18%5D.
Gangwisch et al. (2020). High glycemic index and glycemic load diets as risk factors of insomnia: Analyses from Women’s Health Initiative. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 111 (2), 429-439.