Creating a Sleep Strategy
Night sweats, insomnia, itching, and waking at all hours during the night kicked off my welcome party to perimenopause at age 40. Since having children in my early 30s, getting a good night’s sleep was always a struggle, but now that my boys are older, I should be getting the best sleep of my life, right?
Wrong. Sleeping through the night? What was that? It had been years since I slept a full 8 hours without waking up. I didn’t know I was in perimenopause, and I didn’t know just how important sleep was to the major change I was going through.
When I turned 45, I entered menopause. Getting even 6 hours of sleep was proving to be very difficult. Between the sweating, the itching, the tossing and turning, and the frequent visits to the bathroom, it was impossible to fall asleep or stay asleep for longer than a few hours.
After reading many books and articles on menopause and the implications of sleep deprivation on the brain, I knew things had to change.
Every woman is different, but science tells us that for our brain to repair our mitochondria (the powerhouses of our cells), we must get a minimum of 7.5 or 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. For menopausal women, sleep is even more crucial since sleep deprivation is linked to chronic health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and depression.
Developing a sleep strategy
Sleep alone. It might not be possible for many to do this, but if it is, give this a try. I love my husband dearly and miss co-sleeping with him, but I’m no good to him or myself if I’m sleep-deprived. Luckily, we had a spare bedroom, and my wonderful husband agreed to let me sleep alone. This made a huge difference to a light sleeper like me who, even alone, sleeps with earplugs. I was no longer awoken by his snoring; I mean “breathing,” as he calls it. 🙂
Reduce/increase noise. Start using earplugs or a noise maker. I have found you are either sensitive to sound or you like sound. My husband loves background noise, and I love silence – not a good sleeping match, to say the least!
I sleep with these soft, wax earplugs that block out any sound, and my husband uses this noise maker to block out sound. Either way, the goal is not to be awoken by dogs barking, street noises, or anything else.
Set your wake/sleep schedule 7 days a week. I know; I’m sorry it’s not a great idea to sleep in on the weekends. Sleeping in on the weekends is not helping your brain.
A good marker in neurological health is consistent wake and bedtimes. A new study found changing your regular sleep-wake time by 90 minutes in either direction significantly increases your chance of having a heart attack or heart disease. So, try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day.
Get outside for sunrise and sunset. Get that first morning and evening light into your eyeballs, aka your brain (because your eyes are an extension of your brain)! This actually helps set our circadian rhythm. In other words, your brain will start to regulate when it’s time to sleep and when it is time to wake. No more forcing yourself to sleep or to wake up!
Practice Yoga or Pilates. Controlled breathing used in yoga and Pilates stimulates your vagus nerve. This nerve affects your PNS (parasympathetic nervous system). The PNS controls our body’s rest function and helps us get a good night’s sleep. In a study by the National Insitute of Health, 55% of people who implemented a yoga practice reported better sleep quality, and 85% reported less stress.
Mouth taping. This might sound strange, but it works. I read James Nestors’s book Breath, which changed my life! In his book, he details the benefits and effects of nasal breathing.
I started with sleep tape but quickly realized that KT tape was basically the same thing and much more affordable.
When I first tried mouth-taping, I had anxiety and ripped it off (in my sleep) for three nights straight. My husband told me he had dreams of being Neo from the matrix!
After a few nights, I realized I needed just a small strip down the middle to keep my lips shut. Finally, after a few days, I kept the tape on all night and slept better than I had ever slept in my entire life.
I eventually graduated to a larger strip covering most of my mouth but exposing the corners. Now, believe it or not, I cannot sleep without my mouth tape. My husband feels the same. Once you get over the initial feelings of mouth tape being weird or uncomfortable- Its crazy how much better I sleep as a result.
The science behind mouth taping:
- Breathing through our mouth at night can cause wide-ranging effects like an impaired respiratory cycle, blood pressure, and tissue oxygenation.
- Nose breathing pressurizes the air allowing your lungs to draw more oxygen. It also warms and filters the air removing dust and pathogens. Your nasal passages release nitric oxide – a vital neurotransmitter affecting gas transport.
- Breathing through our mouths at night can cause us to wake up with a dry, scratchy throat and an impaired respiratory cycle with wide-ranging effects from blood pressure to tissue oxygenation.
- Nitric Oxide (released by your nasal passages) plays a role as a cell-to-cell messenger in the brain, the sleep-wake cycle, and the immune system.
- Mouth-taping has been shown to improve snoring and sleep apnea significantly.
So, it comes down to this: try it for two weeks (remember, the first week is the hardest, so don’t give up the first night) and see if you have better, deeper, quality sleep. If you don’t, then don’t tape your mouth. If you do, then GREAT! Win, win!
My last few tips are also beneficial:
- Limit screen time at least 60 minutes before bed
- Cut off liquids by 7 pm.
- Wear the same comfortable clothes to bed each night – think of it as a uniform. Your brain will associate those clothes with sleep.
- Lower your air conditioning or open your windows at night. The ideal sleeping temperature is around 65º. My family lives in Florida, and we cannot afford that temperature, but 74º has been working for us! Do what you can to make sure you are comfortable.
When you start sleeping better, I promise you will begin to feel vibrant again! Please make sure to discuss your sleep strategy with your healthcare provider.
Implement some of these tricks, and let me know if they help! Even just one change, like mouth-taping, can make a huge difference in your life!
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