Perhaps you’ve gained a few pounds since entering menopause…
How did Suzie lose 10 pounds simply by improving her sleep?
She utilized the tips detailed at the end of this article to eliminate her night sweats. Well, actually, she only FOCUSED on improving her sleep. A couple of other positive lifestyle changes seemed to happen organically: “good habits that seemed almost effortless,” according to Suzie. She found herself easily able to make better food choices. It’s likely that her ghrelin levels normalized, resulting in fewer cravings. In addition, she noticed she no longer had any urges to “munch” between meals. Without night sweats disrupting her sleep, she gained energy and began getting up a little earlier to pack a healthy lunch to bring to work. After about 4 months, she was 10 pounds lighter.
In the article “Has Menopause Caused You to Gain Weight? The Little-Known Secret to Shedding Those Extra Pounds,” we discussed:
- Hormonal changes, which occur during menopause, contribute to weight gain and fat accumulation around the midsection (along with high cortisol from chronic stress).
- Establishing a state of hormonal BALANCE gives your body the best advantage for weight loss (and maintenance of your healthy weight).
- Insomnia, frequently caused by menopausal night sweats, can increase ghrelin. Higher than ideal levels of ghrelin, your “hunger hormone,” can result in the sensation of hunger when your body doesn’t really need more food.
- Lack of adequate sleep causes your ghrelin levels to rise.
You know how important a good night’s sleep is for your overall health (and for healthy aging). Now you know another reason to get your zzz’s: to tame your hunger hormone!
At the end of this article, I’m going to get to night sweats, but first, you have to be sure you have the basics in place.
Referred to as “sleep hygiene,” any one (or a combination of several) of the following strategies can dramatically improve the quality and quantity of your sleep. They seem self-evident and somewhat generic, but I’m often surprised to find out how many women don’t INSIST on doing whatever it takes to preserve their sleep. When taking a history, I frequently find that many women with insomnia are breaking more than one of these “rules.” I hope you’ll provide yourself with the gift of a good night’s rest by applying as many of these as you need.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol for several hours before bed. For many women over 50, sleep quality will be negatively impacted by the consumption of ANY amount of alcohol at ANY time of the day. Same story with caffeine. You should experiment. Perhaps a cup of coffee in the morning will not interfere with your sleep.
- Establish a regular sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time, every day, including weekends. This is crucial in establishing and maintaining your circadian rhythm.
- Develop a soothing bedtime ritual to calm your body and your psyche: enjoy a bath, tea, reading, prayer, meditation, journal with your thoughts of gratitude… Don’t watch a horror film. For me, “the evening news” lands in the horror genre.
- Make your bedroom a relaxing haven or a spa-like retreat. Organic, non-toxic bedding material is a great idea. Having the right firmness of mattress, pillow shape, and size of your personal preference will improve your sleep quality. The ideal temperature is between 62 and 68 degrees, according to most studies. Eliminate noise. Snoring spouses or pets will disrupt most women. Remove any and all light. Blackout shades or curtains work well.
- Avoid viewing electronic devices for 2 hours before bedtime, or if you must, wear blue-blocker glasses. Do not leave your devices sitting on your nightstand plugged in and charging. Remove electronic clocks. Don’t use an electric blanket. (link to my article Middle-of-the-Night Insomnia for blue-blocker glasses)
- Eat lighter for your last meal of the day. I don’t recommend snacking before bed, but you need to experiment to see what works for you. Some women sleep better if they have a small amount of complex carbohydrate with dinner. Sweet potato, beets, or butternut squash are great choices. ***See Below for two of my favorite after dinner treats.
- Drink most of your water before 4 or 5 pm. Hopefully you’ll make it until morning before needing to use the bathroom – or if you do have to get up, it will only be once. If you wake during the night and you’re thirsty, go ahead and drink up.
- Avoid vigorous exercise for about 2 hours before bedtime. For most people, exercising close to bedtime can make falling asleep extremely difficult. I’m the exception here. I sleep much better when I engage in physical activity later in the day. I’ll soak in a hot bath with Epsom salts as soon as I get home to calm down, then I seem to drop into a much deeper sleep. See what works for you! Some of the women I work with have discovered that 10 minutes of gentle yoga shortly before bedtime, with a focus on deep breathing, greatly improves their sleep.
BONUS: Here are 2 questions I’m frequently asked:
Is it advisable to nap during the day?
This varies. For some, it seems to be very beneficial – just limit your naps to no more than 30 minutes, and don’t wait too close to bedtime to indulge.
Can supplemental melatonin improve sleep?
Melatonin is a hormone. Since it is available in health food stores, many people try it as a sleep aid. However, I do not recommend taking any hormone without first testing your levels.
4 Natural Solutions for Night Sweats
1. Herbs and Supplements
This is often the first thing that women consider when seeking natural solutions for night sweats or menopausal hot flashes. Here are a few places to start:
- Black Cohosh – Often sold in a liquid tincture, just follow the recommended dose on the bottle. If you purchase capsules, go for about 150 mg per day in divided doses if possible.
- Flaxseed – Try 1 TBSP of flaxseed oil or 1 TBSP of flax meal. I like to grind up organic, golden flaxseeds. I buy the seeds in bulk, grind enough for a week, and store in the refrigerator.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – Some women tell me that they cannot tolerate the taste, so buy some and give it a try. Bragg’s makes raw, organic apple cider vinegar. Drink 1 – 2 TBSPs per day, diluted in water, about 8 ounces per TBSP. If you find that you don’t like it, no worries! You can use it in making homemade Bone Broth (eventually I’ll have an article on Bone Broth).
- Maca Root – I recommend this adaptogenic herb not only because it can reduce night sweats and hot flashes, but also because it has been used for thousands of years to lower the effects of chronic stress by reducing cortisol levels. Many people use it for its reputation as a great herb to improve libido.
2. Keep Your Bedroom Cool
Experiment, but most women do best with a temperature between 62 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
For the majority of the women I work with, night sweats can become significantly pronounced with the consumption of ANY amount of alcohol. For some, even a glass of wine with lunch can be problematic. Therefore, you may find that abstaining makes a dramatic reduction – or may even eliminate your night sweats entirely. I’d say that’s a nice tradeoff!
Studies have shown a reduction in menopausal hot flashes after a series of acupuncture treatments. You’ll also experience overall relaxation, stress reduction, and improved immune function. Worth trying, don’t you think?
It’s probably true that your metabolism does indeed slow a bit during menopause and after. So you’ll need to adjust your eating. That is, if you want to lose or maintain your current weight. There are many strategies, such as improving dietary QUALITY, reducing stress, changing up the type of exercise you’re doing (see 4 Myths of Resistance Training), and perhaps moving your body a little more each day.
What’s one thing you can do today?
Look over the sleep hygiene tips and see where you need to tighten things up, then ghrelin will work for you – not against you – in your quest to achieve and maintain your desired weight.
Here are recipes for two of my favorite treats:
- Slice, smash and fry up a plantain in ghee until slightly browned.
- Pour a little premium coconut milk over them and sprinkle with cinnamon.
- Mash a small avocado and a small ripened banana, mixing together well.
- Add dark, unsweetened cocoa powder to taste.
- You can add a little local honey, but the ripe banana usually creates enough sweetness.
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