Insomnia is a common concern among pre-menopause and menopausal women, affecting up to 56 percent of women. Difficulty falling asleep, waking up too early, awakening during the night, or waking feeling tired are the characteristic features of insomnia. For some women, the hot flashes caused by hormonal changes in menopause can disrupt sleep. For others, insomnia may be triggered by stress, diet, medications or poor sleep habits. Regardless of the cause, a lack of sleep can take a toll on your health.
The exact amount of sleep required is thought to be between seven and nine hours nightly. Getting less than six hours is associated with health problems, such as memory loss, poor concentration, depression, headache, irritability, increased response to stress, high blood pressure, depressed immune function, low libido and weight gain.
There are a few dietary strategies that can improve sleep. Try a light snack before bed of a food that contains tryptophan. This amino acid stimulates the release of serotonin and makes you feel sleepy. Examples include: turkey, chicken, soy foods or whole grain crackers or cereal. A warm glass of milk is an old-time remedy for sleep and there is actually some basis to this. Milk contains certain proteins that aid sleep and the calcium in milk helps promote muscle relaxation. Caffeine (coffee, tea, pop, and chocolate) can affect sleep quality, and should be avoided 8 hours before bed time. While alcohol may help you fall asleep, it causes nighttime wakening and reduces sleep quality, so minimize or avoid it completely. Go easy on sugary foods (cookies, candy) especially in the evening as these foods can cause a sugar-rush and affect your ability to fall asleep.
Developing good sleep habits is essential. Consider the following:
- Set aside at least 7 to 8 hours for sleep. Leaving only 5 or 6 hours may make you feel stressed and impact your ability to fall asleep.
- Establish a regular bed and wake time and try to follow this routine even on the weekends.
- Do relaxing activities before bedtime – read a book, listen to relaxing music or have a warm bath.
- Reserve your bedroom for intimacy and sleep only; don’t work in your bedroom.
- Make your bedroom dark, quiet and comfortable.
- Exercise regularly early in the day. Vigorous activity in the evening can be stimulating and impair sleep.
- Don’t smoke – nicotine is a stimulant and impairs your ability to fall asleep and have a restful sleep.
- Consider acupuncture, massage, yoga and meditation to promote relaxation
Prescription sedatives should only be used when all else fails as they are addictive and cause numerous side effects, including impairment in short term memory.
A natural sleeping aid can help without the side effects that prescription sleeping pills can. Look for a product with the following ingredients:
- 5-HTP: 5-hydroxytryptophan increases serotonin and melatonin levels which promotes relaxation and better sleep
- L-theanine: an amino acid found in green tea which reduces stress, promotes relaxation and improves sleep
- Melatonin: a hormone naturally secreted by the brain that regulates our sleep/wake cycles.
A natural sleep aid can help reduce the time needed to fall asleep, reduce nighttime wakening and improve sleep quality.
What is Your Sleep Style?
One of the most important items in getting a good night’s sleep is choosing the correct pillow.
Pillows come in all different shapes, sizes and materials, however, a pillow should always be the correct height to keep your head level with your spine. Knowing your sleep position will determine what type of pillow you should choose.
If you sleep on your back, you are best to choose a pillow that is not too firm or too high since this will raise up your head and neck too far resulting in neck pain. Ideally, your head should be level with your upper back and spine.
If you sleep on your side, which the majority of people do, your pillow should conform to the shape of your neck to and should be high enough to keep your head aligned with your spine.
Stomach sleepers should choose the slimmest pillow possible or no pillow at all, since stomach sleepers can run the risk of hyper-extending their neck.
A physical condition may also dictate an extra pillow be used. The Canadian Chiropractic Association suggest for people who suffer from lower-back pain, a pillow placed under the knees if you sleep on your back or in between her knees if you sleep on your side will further help to support the spine.
Pillows can be made from feathers, down, polyester fibre, memory foam or organic products such as buckwheat hulls. If you suffer from allergies, in particular dust mites, you should consider a hypoallergenic material such as those made with polyester fibre or polyurethane. If you suffer from dust mite allergies, you can buy special mite-proof covers for both your pillows and mattress, since these are both locations that dust mites take up residence. The new mite covers are soft the touch, yet provide a complete barrier between you and the dust mites.
If you suffer from asthma, recent studies have indicated that both feather and cotton pillows are better than synthetic pillows in controlling dust mite populations. This may be in part due to the tight weave used on these pillows that create a barrier much like the barrier created by the new mite covers.
A Guide to Buying the Perfect Mattress for You
We can’t talk about healthy sleeping habits without talking about the most important sleeping aid of all. Your mattress! Your mattress is one of the most important items you’ll need for a good night’s sleep. So, if you’re in the market for a new one, here are a few tips to keep in mind before buying.
- Get some support. Your mattress should support your entire body, especially your back. Make sure it supports the natural curves and alignment of your spine. Take into consideration the materials used to make the mattress such as coils, springs, fabric and padding.
- Better Safe than Sorry. A good mattress is an investment into your health, so when ever possible, take advantage of a warranty. Accidents do happen, whether it’s moving from place to place or an unfortunate spill. Your mattress should be just as protected as any other large investment item in your home. Always use a mattress cover since most of the mattress companies won’t honour the warranty if you don’t.
- Firmer Isn’t Always Better. There is a misconception that a firm mattress is the better mattress. Not so! Like a pillow, it depends on what type of sleeper your are: back, side or stomach. Also if you sleep alone or with a partner. Discuss these things with the salesperson and if you do sleep with a partner, make sure they come along when you shop. Take your time when selecting a new mattress to make sure it feels right for you.
- Accessorize. Once you’ve purchased your mattress, think about getting a good quality mattress pad. They can help protect your mattress from stains, spills, rips or tears. They‘re also easy to clean (most go right into the washing machine) and come in a variety of textures, price points and thicknesses. They can really help you customize the comfort of your mattress for that perfect night’s sleep.
- Be Picky. It’s recommended that you should replace your mattress every seven years (depending on use). Some people don’t even own a car for that long! Do your research before going to the store and make a list of your current mattress failings. Don’t be afraid to put the sales people through their paces. Ask plenty of questions about mattress materials, longevity, value, warranty and design. Also, find out if the mattress company recommends you flip and rotate your mattress on a regular basis, since this can add years to the life of your mattress.