If you're not regularly getting seven to nine hours of sleep each night, if you rely on caffeine to keep you awake during the day, or if you find yourself falling asleep in front of the TV before bed, you're probably not getting enough good quality sleep.
Our understanding of the importance of sleep has increased dramatically in recent times and we now know that it has wide reaching benefits for both physical and mental health. Just like nutritious food and appropriate exercise, good quality sleep is essential for optimal health and wellbeing.
The Complexities of Sleep
On the surface, sleep seems relatively simplistic - after all we've been doing it every night since we were born. However if you start delving into the science of sleep, you'll quickly begin to appreciate how complex it actually is.
When we're tucked up in bed each night, we sleep in roughly 90 minute cycles. Depending on the time of night, these sleep cycles consist of varying ratios of two different types of sleep - NREM (non-rapid eye movement) and REM (rapid eye movement). NREM and REM sleep play different, but similarly important roles that benefit the health of our brains and our bodies.
Of particular significance during the menopausal years, these benefits include elevated mood, improved memory and assisting with weight loss. This is by no means a complete list and it would be wise to assess sleep quality as part of an overall treatment strategy for any chronic health concern.
Getting Better Sleep
Anyone who has experienced trouble sleeping - whether it's difficulty falling asleep or waking during the early hours of the morning, will know how frustrating it can be. This is because our ability to establish solid sleep patterns is impacted by a range of factors such as our internal circadian rhythm, the state of our health, external influences like stress and environmental factors including being too hot.
'Sleep hygiene' is the somewhat unusual name given to the modifiable behaviour and environmental factors that have been identified as beneficial for sleep. For example, reducing caffeine intake, going to bed at the same time each night, or making sure the temperature in your bedroom isn't too warm. The list of recommendations may vary a bit depending on where you source the information from, but the key point is that they are all modifiable factors i.e. things that you can change yourself.
There is also a wide range of natural products (herbal medicines and nutritional supplements) that promote relaxation and therefore can be particularly beneficial for both initiating sleep and helping you to stay asleep. However it's important to understand that in most cases, these remedies will be most effective when used in conjunction with relevant sleep hygiene recommendations.
Like many chronic health concerns, the solution to sleep problems isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. Whether you're looking at sleep hygiene recommendations or selecting a herbal remedy, the critical starting point is to identify the reason(s) why you aren't sleeping well. Once you understand the cause, figuring out the solution becomes much easier.
Most women need between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.
Sleep plays an important role in both our mental and physical health.
During the menopausal years, sleep can help improve mood and memory as well as assist with weight loss.
Sleep is also an important consideration when devising a treatment strategy for many chronic health concerns.
'Sleep hygiene' is the term given to the behaviour and environmental factors that you can modify to help improve your sleep.
Natural remedies that assist with sleep are usually most effective when used in conjunction with relevant sleep hygiene recommendations.
Addressing sleep problems isn't a one-size-fits-all approach and the best place to start is to identify the reason(s) why you aren't sleeping well.
The National Sleep Foundation. (2020). Sleep hygiene. Retrieved from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/sleep-hygieneWalker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: The new science of sleep and dreams. London, United Kingdom: Penguin Books Ltd.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.