Natural Menopause Insomnia Remedies That Work
Menopause insomnia can be a real challenge. It keeps you up at night, makes you feel exhausted during the day, and generally has a negative impact on your whole life.
According to the Sleep Foundation, a shocking 40% of women in their late 40s and 50s experience difficulty sleeping.
Are you having sleep problems too?
How Does Menopause Affect Sleep?
Sleep quality decreases in the years leading to menopause, and this can persist for years. That adds up to a lot of beneficial sleep time that you’re missing out on.
Hot Flashes and Night Sweats
Around 85% of women report hot flashes during menopause.
Hot flashes are sudden feelings of extreme warmth, often accompanied by a red, flushed face and sweating. They can happen day or night and last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes.
Night sweats are hot flashes that occur at night. They frequently cause drenching sweats that make it difficult to sleep.
As women enter the years leading to menopause, their hormone levels become volatile.
Eventually, the sex hormones progesterone and estrogen decline, but it’s not a straight decline. Instead, they can rise and fall erratically. This creates a hormone imbalance of not only the sex hormones but also other hormones in the body, including melatonin and cortisol.
Before the transition to menopause, progesterone helps you buffer the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone. However, as progesterone decreases, the levels of cortisol increase for many women.
This increase is important because cortisol is strongly related to sleep. As soon as you fall asleep, the production of cortisol decreases until it reaches its lowest point around midnight. After that, cortisol starts to increase until it reaches peak production around sunrise, helping you to wake up.
In the late transition to menopause, excessive production of cortisol in the middle of the night can wake you up and can make it very difficult to fall back asleep.
Reduction in Melatonin
Melatonin, another hormone produced naturally by our bodies, helps us to fall and stay asleep by regulating the sleep cycle.
This hormone is released in response to darkness and diminishes in response to light. That’s why it’s recommended to dim lights and avoid light from computers, smartphones, and television a couple of hours before bedtime.
Melatonin production declines as we age, right around midlife.
Stress, anxiety, and depression are unfortunately common among menopausal women, and it’s well known that these emotional issues have an impact on the ability to fall and stay asleep.
To make matters worse, the lack of sleep can also affect your mental state, creating an exhausting cycle of poor rest and poor mental health.
Menopause Insomnia Remedies
Now that you know the causes of menopause insomnia, let’s skip to the good part, a complete list of remedies for insomnia caused by menopause.
Establish a Nighttime Routine
First things first. Start by establishing a bedtime ritual to signal your brain that it’s time to wind down and set your body into sleep mode.
This nighttime routine can include a warm bath, washing your face, putting on your pajamas, turning on a diffuser with essential oils, or reading a book. Pick and choose what works best for you.
Following a regular bedtime schedule can help. If you struggle to maintain timely habits, try setting the alarm on your smartphone to let you know when it’s time to start getting ready to go to bed. Be sure to turn off distracting messages and phone calls.
Budget Time to Sleep
It’s often said that if you want something done, you have to schedule it. So it makes sense to budget enough time for sleep, including the time you need to unwind and complete your nighttime routine.
Avoid Sleep Procrastination
Has this happened to you? Your eyes are closing, and you’re exhausted, yet you’re watching TV, looking at your phone, or doing something else instead of going to bed.
Many times we go to bed late simply because we’re entertaining ourselves with something else instead of going to bed. This is called sleep procrastination and is a bad habit you can easily change.
Create an Environment Conducive to a Good Night’s Sleep
Remove Electronics and Other Distractions
Cell phones, laptops, or tablet screens emit a blue light that suppresses melatonin production.
As we discussed earlier, melatonin is responsible for managing the sleeping cycle. Therefore, you should put your electronics away at least one hour before going to bed to avoid having a hard time falling asleep and waking up the next morning.
The Perfect Bedroom for a Good Night’s Sleep
Create a sleep environment that’s dark, quiet, comfortable, and cool. Wear an eye mask or use black-out curtains.
Many use essential oils to improve the quality of sleep due to their calming effects.
Aromatherapy with distinct scents may promote more effective sleep, help you wake up in the morning, or even influence dreams and memory formation during sleep.
Essential oils can be applied directly to the skin using a carrier oil or diffused using an essential oil diffuser in your bedroom.
Calm Your Mind With Sleep Audio
Your mind is not always ready to sleep when your body is. That’s when listening to sleep music and soundscapes come in, enabling you to disengage from your busy life and prepare for a restful night’s sleep.
Listening to soundscapes like white noise, crackling fireplaces, heavy rain, and ocean waves is calming to the mind when you’re trying to fall asleep.
Sleepcasts are audio content specifically designed to create the right conditions for a good night’s sleep by creating a mentally sleepy environment for you.
Music can also help you relax and disconnect your mind. The sleep foundation claims that listening to music at night can help you fall asleep faster and also improve the quality of your rest.
Moreover, listening to sleep music can have a cumulative effect. The more you listen to music, the better you will sleep.
It’s now so easy to find the perfect sounds to help you sleep as several apps for this purpose have been developed in the last few years.
Here are some of the most popular apps for promoting good sleeping patterns:
Fight Night Sweats
Night sweats are one of the most common causes of insomnia during menopause. But you can minimize the discomfort and disruption they cause by being prepared:
Lower Your AC
The simple step of decreasing your AC’s temperature can lower the intensity of your night sweats. According to Medical News Today, the perfect temperature is 60 to 67 degrees F.
Sleep in Layers
You will notice that your body temperature might change through the night. So dressing in layers or having different weights of blankets can help you easily adjust your body temperature.
Avoid Tight Clothing
Close-fitting clothes decrease the amount of airflow your body receives throughout the night, increasing your body temperature and adding feelings of discomfort during sleep.
Cooling pajamas are designed with cooling technology fabrics to help you regulate your body temperature. For example, pajamas made of bamboo fabric tend to work well.
Sleep on Bamboo Sheets
Bamboo sheets are also cooling and will help to wick the sweat away from your body. There are other types of cooling sheets too.
Cooling Bedding Systems
If night sweats are really affecting your life, you could look into cooling bedding systems. Try pressure-activated cooling bedding systems or cooling mattress pads for practical help keeping cool at night.
Drink Cold Water
Keep a cup of ice water by your bed to sip in case you get hot or thirsty in the middle of the night. A specially designed bottle will keep your drink cold for hours.
Limit Foods that Disrupt Sleep
There are a few foods that can make sleep difficult. While everyone’s list of offenders might be different, there are some general categories of food that can cause trouble.
The first step to getting adequate sleep is to break your love affair with caffeinated beverages.
Caffeine is a stimulant that puts your body in fight or flight mode. After drinking a cup of coffee, your heart is racing, your blood pressure is rising, your muscles are tightening up, and you are alert.
Effects of caffeine are long-lasting in the body. A caffeinated beverage you drink in the afternoon could keep you up at night, as the effects can stay in the body for up to 21 hours! However, the impact of caffeine is individualized and based on the tolerance levels that you have built up over time.
If you have trouble sleeping, try cutting out caffeine for two weeks and see how you feel. If that seems too hard, then try limiting it to 1-2 cups a day early in the morning.
Many people believe that alcohol helps them to sleep, but this is not entirely true.
It’s true that alcohol can help some people fall asleep, but it prevents them from getting into that deep REM sleep, which actually decreases the quality of sleep.
Also, alcohol is known to worsen hot flashes and night sweats, a common cause of poor sleep during menopause.
Luckily, there are many tasty alternatives to alcohol now as well as lower-alcohol cocktails to choose from for a regular evening tipple.
Several studies have found that people who follow diets high in sugar tend to experience restlessness at night. For example, a 2019 study found an association between drinking sugar-sweetened beverages and poor sleep quality.
So, for better sleep, minimize your intake of food with added sugars, including those found in sweetened beverages. This is particularly true of those drinks that contain both added sugar and caffeine (i.e. sports drinks if you are not heavily exercising, sodas, and others).
It’s also a good idea to limit pastries, candies, and all other foods with added sugars to once or twice a week or have very small quantities if you eat them more frequently.
Eat More Foods that Promote a Good Night’s Sleep
Certain foods help you sleep by promoting the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Others contain specific antioxidants or vitamins that also encourage sleep.
Some of the foods that can help fight insomnia include almonds, bananas, fatty fish, kiwi, milk, turkey, tart cherry juice, walnuts, chamomile, and banana peel tea.
Dinner: How Much, What, and When to Eat
Let’s start by talking about quantity. A small dinner (500-600 calories) is best, as larger dinners take longer to digest.
Slow digestion can make it harder to fall asleep and to have a restful sleep.
To avoid being overly hungry at dinner, having a mid-afternoon snack is recommended. The best snacks for hunger control include those with fat or protein, such as Greek yogurt with natural fruits or almonds and berries.
Now, let’s focus on what to put on your plate.
- Lean protein (plant-based or animal)
- Healthy fats
- Healthy carbohydrates
Harvard’s healthy eating plate provides an excellent and easy-to-understand guide on what a healthy plate should look like.
Last, eat dinner at least two hours before you plan to sleep. It’s fine to have a small snack before bedtime.
Be Mindful of Nighttime Snacks
Low blood sugar can wake you up in the middle of the night.
There are many reasons for waking up throughout the night. One of those is fluctuating blood sugar levels. When they drop too low during sleep, the brain alerts us to possible danger, and we wake up.
A nighttime snack with a small number of carbohydrates, such as half of an apple, and some natural beneficial fat like peanut or almond butter helps you balance your blood sugar all through the night.
Also, you can try banana peel tea or a bedtime smoothie if you feel like something new and delicious to help you sleep.
Finally, avoid snacks loaded with added sugar or caffeine.
Drink Enough Water Throughout the Day
Do you find yourself waking up in the middle of the night thirsty? Stay hydrated throughout the day! Aim to consume 8-12 cups of water per day. This will help minimize those unpleasant disturbances in the middle of the night.
However, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of water you drink in the last part of the day — you don’t want to wake up to use the bathroom!
Exercise Earlier in the Day
Exercise has been reported to reduce the amount of time that it takes you to fall asleep and improve sleep quality.
In perimenopausal and menopausal women, exercise has been found to reduce the symptoms that impair a good night’s sleep, likes hot flashes and night sweats.
Exercise doesn’t have to be boring either; it can be fun and social. If it’s difficult for you to get in some physical activity on your own, pick an enjoyable activity that you can do with family or friends, like taking a dance class, hiking, or joining a soccer team.
It’s best to spread your activities throughout the week and to avoid doing exercise late at night. Remember, if strenuous physical exertion is new to you, consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
Take Shorter Naps
While the desire to sleep is strongest from 2:00 AM to 4:00 AM, a close second is between 2:00 PM to 3:00 PM.
This suggests that napping can be a natural part of our daily rhythms. Taking a nap can be a great way to refresh yourself during the day! Instead of depending on energy drinks or coffee, a brief afternoon snooze can give you a boost of energy to see you through the rest of the day.
A brief nap (20 minutes) can help restore cognitive abilities without a significantly negative effect on nighttime sleep. Any longer than that — especially longer than 30 minutes — is likely to leave you feeling sluggish and interfere with your nighttime rest.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to Treat Sleep Disorders
Sometimes it’s time to call the experts. An interesting line of treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) which focuses on helping you identify your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are contributing to sleep problems.
CBT can also include therapeutic strategies to improve sleep education, sleep hygiene, stimulus control, sleep restriction, and relaxation training.
Sleep Disorder Specialists
Have you tried everything, and you still can’t sleep well? Fortunately, some specialists are devoted to treating sleep problems with many different techniques.
Here is a list of resources for locating a certified behavioral sleep specialist:
- American Board of Sleep Medicine
- American Psychological Association
- Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies
- Society of Behavioral Sleep Medicine
The Bottom Line
There are many different ways to treat menopause insomnia. While certain remedies may work for one person, a different approach may work better for someone else. It’s important to find what works best for you and stick with it.
If you have tried everything and still cannot sleep well, it may be time to consult a specialist.
Dr. Su-Nui Escobar, a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist in Miami, FL, is dedicated to empowering women in perimenopause and menopause to live healthier, more satisfying lives.
With a doctorate in clinical nutrition from the University of North Florida, she has expertise in menopause and weight loss, including the unique challenges faced by those on weight loss medications.
Su-Nui’s passion for her field is evident in her previous role as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson.