Sweet dreams: Simple tips to help your menopausal sleep

“To sleep, perchance to dream.” Oh, now wouldn’t that be nice. Sleep is vital to living, so why is it more difficult the older you get? I can’t help thinking of Aldous Huxley when I hear young people complaining about anyone past 40: “That we are not much sicker and much madder than we are is due exclusively to that most blessing and blessed of all natural graces, sleep.” I mean, if you’re not sleeping properly, then you’re almost guaranteed to be a grumpy old woman (or man).

I fondly remember having to be woken at 10am on a Saturday morning when I was younger and dragging myself out of bed. Now I lie awake at 5am wondering if it’s too early for breakfast. If it weren’t for the fact I’d be demanding lunch at 9am, I’d do it. I’ve tried all the “tricks” – counting down backwards from 500, regulating my breathing, body scanning – and all that happens is I get stressed that I’m not doing it right and so can’t sleep.

The change of clocks has thrown me completely out of whack, so I’ve been looking at changing my bedtime routine and seeing what the experts say. This is what I’m planning:

Cut down on caffeine

This, my dear Sensers, is going to be the hardest thing. When I was two, my pet name was “The Little Teapot” because I loved tea so much (no I wasn’t short and stout. That came later.) It’s a mad affair that hasn’t gone away – only now it encompasses coffee. Lovely coffee so strong the spoon can stand up in the cup. Oooooooooh.  But, of course, caffeine is one of the major no-nos when it comes to a healthy sleep pattern – here comes the science bit: it blocks the melatonin that helps us sleep – and so I’m going cold turkey after 3pm. Experts also recommend not having coffee before breakfast, which I reckon means I take a bit of toast before my first sip. It’ll be tough, but I can do it.

Speaking of which…

Have your breakfast

Like me, you may be wondering how what you eat first thing in the morning can have an affect at the other time of the day. However, according to sleep therapist Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, people who eat breakfast have less difficulty falling asleep and also wake up more energised. Now I’m awake, but energised? I’m so lethargic in the morning I’m thinking of getting that rubber surface they use in children’s playgrounds on my floor so I can literally roll out of bed and not hurt myself. Thankfully, breakfast is my favourite meal of the day (and that’s no offence to Mr 50 Sense’s cooking, which is amazing) so this one I will have no trouble with.

Drink less in the evening

We have a beautiful view of the (neighbour’s) garden from our bathroom. I’ve recently discovered how it’s even nicer at 2am, when I’m having my madrugada* wee. There are medical reasons that can cause this – bladder muscles can weaken with age and falling oestrogen levels can cause changes in your urinary tract. However, I’ve also got in the habit of taking the tablets for my restless leg syndrome with a large glass of water so I’m cutting down on that.

Relax properly after work

I like nothing better than snuggling up with the laptop in the evening. It feels like “my time” – nothing to do but read the papers, play Scrabble, scroll through Facebook and Twitter… Except these are all stimulating my brain so when I go to bed, I’m continuing that Twitter argument (which I’ve never even joined in) or wondering about Rod Stewart’s passion for model trains (honest, check out ModelRailroader) or what words I can play that have an X, Q and Z in them but no vowels. I may not be working, but my brain is buzzing away as actively as if I were in the office. And yes, I have that blue shade screen thingy, but that makes no difference to the little grey cells. So from 7pm, I’m putting down the laptop and watching TV, picking up books (not the Kindle), having a bath… Who knows? I might even iron.

Relax properly before work

Too often we wake up and switch on the phone/laptop to check work emails. It’s the same on the train, too, everyone tapping away showing how busy and important they are (reminds me of Bridget Jones). This one will be a little more difficult – as a journalist, I need to see what’s happening in the world before I get to the office – but I’m banning work emails before I get into the office so I have boundaries both physical and mental.

Pass the smell test

No, not the sort that lifts the duvet. Certain smells are more conducive to getting a good night’s sleep, but like many people, Mr 50 Scents – I mean, Sense has trouble sleeping in a room that is highly fragranced. I was bemoaning my lack of sleep at work and talking about this when a friend gave me a This Works Sleep Balm to try. I love it. Being a balm, I can rub it on my pulse points and the lavender smell is so subtle and localised it doesn’t affect other people. For that reason I prefer it to pillow sprays (which can feel like you’re inhaling the scent).

What methods do you use to get to sleep? Tell me in the comments.

*Madrugada – a Spanish word to describe that funny time when it’s not yet morning but it’s no longer night. It’s a great word when you’ve been clubbing and going home at 3am (yes, I can remember those days.)