Taking a short snooze can boost brainpower, but late afternoon naps can make it harder to fall asleep at night, says the North American Menopause Society (NAMS). If you can’t manage without one, limit your nap to 30 minutes or less in the midafternoon, suggests the Mayo Clinic.
In most cases, temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit and below 54 degrees will disrupt sleep, says the National Sleep Foundation (NSF). The best temperature varies from person to person and can be affected by pajamas and bedding, but in general, most sleep scientists believe that a slightly cool room improves sleep. That’s because it mimics the body’s natural tendency to lower its internal temperature during the night.
Try to avoid taking in too much alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine, suggests NAMS. And not just before bedtime, but during the afternoon and evening hours, too. Caffeine can affect sleep even when it’s consumed as early as 10 to 12 hours before bedtime. And although alcohol is initially a sedative, it later becomes a stimulant in the body; so while it may put you to sleep at first, it also can wake you up later.
Scientists at the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center are studying a new technique to help insomnia: Breathe deep and visualize your hands and feet getting warmer. This will cause blood to go there, away from the core. The combination of warm extremities and a cooler core can help bring on sleep.
Sleep problems can be a side effect of some medications prescribed for colds, allergies, high blood pressure, pain, asthma, heart disease, and depression. If you believe that your prescription has triggered disordered sleeping, talk to your doctor about whether you need to switch meds or just make some lifestyle changes.
Kick your laptop out of bed: 63 percent of Americans don’t get enough sleep and 95 percent of those surveyed admit to using an electronic device—such as a television, computer, video game or cell phone—within the hour before bed at least a few nights a week, according to The National Sleep Foundation's annual Sleep in America poll. Experts say pre-bedtime light exposure can suppress the release of melatonin, a sleep-promoting hormone. To fall asleep faster, set an “electronic curfew” an hour before bedtime: Dim the lamps, avoid email and turn off the late-night TV. Or, try donning a pair of “dampening glasses,” which filter out the most damaging light, suggests experts.
Many insomniacs complain that their “brain won’t shut off,” which may keep their heads too hot to sleep, reports Time. The body’s circadian rhythm, which regulates sleep and wakefulness, lowers body temperature at night to encourage sleep. There may be a new solution: Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that insomniacs who wore a cap that contained circulating water at cool temperatures took 13 minutes to fall asleep, compared with 16 minutes for the healthy controls, and they slept for 89 percent of the time they were in bed, which was similar to the amount of time the controls spent asleep. If you can’t sleep, try lying with your head near the air conditioner or an open window or wear a cooling eye mask (like this one) over your forehead.
Avoid heavy meals and large quantities of beverages in the evening or late at night, suggests NAMS. These can cause indigestion and/or frequent waking due to the need to urinate. If you get hungry before bedtime, snack on a bowl of cereal or peanut butter toast. Milk and peanuts contain tryptophan, which helps the body relax.
This sleep-inducing hormone is involved in regulating the circadian system, which, among other things, determines your cycle of sleep and wakefulness. The Mayo Clinic reports that “the weight of scientific evidence does suggest that melatonin decreases sleep latency (the time it takes to fall asleep), increases the feeling of sleepiness, and may increase the duration of sleep.” Start with 0.3 milligram of melatonin an hour before bed.
It sounds foolish “but many women have trouble falling asleep because they confuse feeling tired, which means you may need a little quiet time, with feeling truly sleepy, which is what happens when you literally feel your eyes getting heavy and ready to close,” says Lisa Shives, MD, of the University of Chicago/Evanston Hospital & Northshore Sleep Medicine. “Getting into bed when you’re not truly sleepy just raises the anxiety level about not being able to fall asleep.”
The reason it works, says Shives, isn’t necessarily that heat is calming, but that the chill you feel when you come out helps the body begin the natural cooling process that takes place during sleep, when our bodies naturally reach their lowest body temperatures about five to six hours into the night.
More than 50 percent of Americans keep one in their bedrooms—and Shives is convinced that the most popular shows today, many of which revolve around stressful situations such as murders or crimes, rev us up to a point where it would be hard for anyone to simply fall asleep. Constantly shifting visual images is also stimulating, not calming, to the brain.
If you can’t control when you go to sleep, be in firm control over when you get up. Use the trick that behavioral therapists are finding helps many insomnia patients: Set your alarm for eight hours after your desired bedtime, regardless of when you actually fell asleep, and make yourself get up. Use all your willpower—and multiple alarm clocks if necessary—combined with bright light to make yourself get out of bed and start the day, even if you barely got any sleep. It’s the only way to start a sleep routine, a key measure for turning around an out-of-sync sleep-wake cycle.
When you wake up in the middle of the night, give yourself 15 minutes or so to fall back asleep, then take action. Rather than just lie there endlessly and become more and more anxious about falling back to sleep, do something to calm down. If you like meditating or doing yoga, give it a try. Listen to an audiobook or read—but choose a book that doesn’t have a plot that will keep you awake wanting to find out what happens next. “Consider a book you’ve read many times before, or poetry, or spiritual reading, something that will be a pleasure to read again,” advises Shives.
Ask your doctor to check your thyroid with a blood test that measures thyroid stimulating hormone. More than 10 million American women have undiagnosed thyroid disease, an endocrine disorder that can disturb sleep.
If perimenopausal changes are the root of your sleep problems, hormone therapy—taking prescription versions of sex hormones—may bring about restful nights. Many women (and their doctors) were scared away from hormone therapy in 2002 when government researchers halted a major study out of concern that the protocol might raise the risk of breast cancer and heart disease. Since then doctors have tried to minimize risk. The regimen now recommended by most experts limits your exposure to the drugs by prescribing them on a short-term basis: You use hormone therapy to get through the years leading up to menopause (which technically occurs on the day that’s one year after your last period) and possibly a year or two more.
For more information on how to outsmart perimenopausal sleep woes, click here.
If stress keeps you awake, experiment with relaxation techniques such as meditation, visualization, and deep breathing. Or try body scan, an exercise to note the tension in each part of your body and consciously let it go. It can sometimes be hard to relax tense muscles after an active day, and the body scan technique helps you let go of tension one muscle group at a time.
Valerian is the most widely used herbal sleep remedy. In a Menopause study of insomniac women ages 50 to 60, a regimen of 530 milligrams taken twice a day for four weeks improved the quality of sleep for 30 percent of the subjects—and caused no adverse reactions in anyone.
In 2010, the first study to examine the effect of cardio on insomniac middle-aged or older adults found that participants who exercised four times a week at a moderate pace reported an increase in total sleep time. They also felt less depressed, more energetic and less drowsy. The effect was comparable to or better than what some common medications can provide. Why? “When you exercise, you need time to recover, so you sleep longer and more deeply,” says study author Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Northwestern University. Try to do 30 to 40 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio four times a week and you could sleep 75 minutes longer a night. Late-night workouts are OK, too, just not within two hours of bedtime.
Teach pets to sleep in a separate room, says Nikos Linardakis, MD, author of Ten Natural Ways to a Good Night’s Sleep. A recent survey by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center found that among patients with pets, 53 percent reported that they disturbed their sleep every night.
To maximize your naptime, snooze in a swaying hammock, suggests a new study published in Current Biology. USA Today reports that when Swiss researchers asked volunteers with good sleep habits to take two 45-minute naps a week apart—one while an experimental hammock was not moving and one while it swung slowly—they found that participants fell asleep faster and slipped into a deeper sleep more quickly when they were in the rocking hammock. Although the connection between motion and sleep may seem intuitive, researchers are unsure why it helps.
Noises at levels as low as 40 decibels (think: a dripping faucet) or as high as 70 decibels can keep us awake, says the NSF. However the absence or presence of a familiar noise can have as great an impact on your sleep as out-of-the-ordinary noises. Block out unwanted sounds with earplugs or cover them up using the “white noise” created by fans, air conditioners or sound machines.
In a two-week pilot study at the University of Rochester Medical Center, 15 adults with insomnia who drank two eight-ounce bottles of CherryPharm’s tart cherry juice every day slept about 20 minutes longer than they did when they drank a cherry-flavored placebo beverage. Why? According to one theory, tart cherries (but not sweet cherries) may improve sleep because they contain relatively high amounts of melatonin. Tart cherry juice isn’t as potent as pharmaceutical sleep medications, but it works about as well as over-the-counter sleep supplements, like tryptophan and valerian.
Find tart cherry juice at Traverse Bay Farms (), R.W. Knudsen Family () and supermarkets.
When natural therapies fail, there are a variety of prescription medications that can help you get a good night’s rest. The antianxiety drug lorazepam (Ativan) may be recommended for occasional, but not every night, use. Also potentially helpful: short-term sleeping pills like zolpidem (Ambien) or the serotonin modulator trazodone hydrochloride (Desyrel). "Desyrel is an antidepressant that works by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain. It works extremely well for insomnia in some women," says ob-gyn Jan Herr, MD, a menopause expert at Kaiser Permanente Northern California. "I think it’s the first nonhormonal prescription medication that a sleepless woman should try. Other sleep medications are addictive and require that you increase the dose over time to remain effective; they may even just stop working if used on a regular basis."