“Why is it so hard to go to sleep and stay asleep?

Why do I keep waking up at the same times during the night?”
Those are questions that I get asked a lot, by my clients, and the reality is that there can be many reasons why someone doesn’t get good quality sleep, including  diet, lifestyle and environmental factors but, when I hear that they are waking up at around the same time every night, and they are menopausal, then I can be pretty sure that it’s a hypercortisol induced sleep problem.

Hyper-what-now??
Cortisol is often called the stress hormone, because it’s released to help your body during stressful situations, but it also manages how your body uses carbohydrates, proteins and fats. It helps to keep inflammation down and regulates your blood pressure. When you’re stressed it gives you an energy boost and then helps to restore balance afterwards. Without cortisol our bodies cannot function!

Naturally, cortisol levels start to rise approximately 2-3 hours after the onset of sleep and they continue to rise in the early morning and as we wake. Cortisol levels should be at their lowest at around midnight and start rising from then. The peak is usually around 9am and, as the days goes on, the levels start to decline gradually.

That’s the pattern for someone with normal cortisol levels, but being in menopause, or peri-menopause, means that we don’t always have normal cortisol levels. Our bodies are under stress as part of the menopause process and, as a result, cortisol levels become erratic. Add to the fact that menopause can cause anxiety and emotional stresses and our cortisol levels can go through the roof!

This means that our cortisol levels are already elevated when we go to bed, don’t deplete fully, and continue to rise which leads to an increase in light sleep and frequent waking.

So what can you do about it?

The short answer is RELAX but that’s often easier said than done. You can, of course, take sleeping pills but they only mask the issue and don’t resolve it, so making changes to reduce cortisol levels is the best way forward.

I would recommend:
• A nice long bath with some magnesium flakes/Epsom salt, or bubbles if you’d prefer (not the alcoholic kind of bubbles though!)
• Mediation
• Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
• Switching off mobile phones/tablets/ipads etc at least an hour before you go to sleep.
• Pranyama breathing. This is a great way to balance our sympathetic (fight of flight) and parasympathetic(rest and digest) nervous systems.
• Massage
• Enjoying fun and relaxing times with friends and family.

These are some of the things I do but what about you? How do you try to keep your stress levels down?