The pace and stresses of today’s world means sleep is even more important to our general health and wellbeing. Stress and anxiety elevate cortisol levels, eventually sending the adrenal glands into overdrive, which affects the ability to sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, nearly 40 million Americans suffer from sleep disorders, and women are more likely than men to have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, especially as we age. While there will always be things to keep us awake at night, learning to properly manage or reduce our stress levels can help keep us rested and healthier.
Most people function best with 7-9 hours of sleep per night, but studies show American woman between ages 30-60 only get an average of 6 hours and 41 minutes per night during the work week. We’re chronically sleep-deprived, and constantly fluctuating hormone levels play a huge role. One of the hallmark symptoms of perimenopause and menopause is insomnia due to declining estrogen levels. While sleep medications can be helpful in the short term, they are not generally recommended for long-term use as they can be both physically and psychologically addictive and increase some health risks.
Establishing a nightly “shut down and unwind” or sleep hygiene ritual with regular sleep and waking times is important. Avoiding caffeine late in the day, and shutting off television and computers after 9 pm or even earlier is also good. A small dose of the supplement melatonin to help regulate sleep and waking cycles, a glass of warm milk (mom really did know best) or a warm bath can also help.
If changing your environment, and cutting down stimulants like caffeine and alcohol doesn’t help, see a hormonal health professional to determine if underlying hormonal imbalances are working against you. Within my own practice, I’ve seen many women’s sleep issues become manageable or no longer an issue simply through proper hormone replacement therapy and establishing good sleep hygiene habits.