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Sleep Tips for Midlife Women

Sleep Tips for Midlife Women

If you’re having trouble getting the rest you so richly deserve, you’re not alone!  40% of women have sleep problems during perimenopause and menopause. What’s at fault? There are six main culprits. But don’t despair. You can beat them with my best sleep tips for women in midlife, including yoga, meditation, and pranayama.

Middle aged woman can't sleep, she lies in bed staring at a clock that reads 3:30 am

Why is it harder to sleep as we get older?

 

Why do so many middle-aged and older women have insomnia? Here are six common culprits.

 

Hot flashes / Night Sweats

You’re having a lovely sleep, not bothering anyone, when suddenly the blood vessels at the skin’s surface expand. Your skin flushes red, and your body is unbearably hot. To cool down, your body turns on the taps, i.e. your sweat glands. 

 

Now you’re hot and wet (and not in a sexy way). Followed by cold and damp. Yuck!

 

Sometimes multiple times a night! For years!

 

Grrrrr!

 

Depression / Anxiety 

 

Depression and anxiety are extremely common for women in mid-life. Many of us are reflecting back on the past, sometimes a little too critically. At the same time, we’re also super busy with work, kids, ageing parents, and community responsibilities. 

 

The nasty combination of worry and self-judgement makes it really tough to fall asleep and stay that way. 

 

The Perimenopause Roller Coaster

 

Hormones play a big role in the type of sleep you get. The week before your period can be the worst during perimenopause because your progesterone levels are so high.

 

Progesterone interferes with deep, slow-wave sleep. So in that week before your period, you wake up many times throughout the night for a few seconds. 

 

Aches and Pains

 

Hormones don’t get all the credit. Let’s not forget all the other complaints that come with ageing. 

  • Joint pain,
  • Chronic pain 
  • Restless legs 
  • Indigestion

 

Anyone of these can have you stomping to the couch in the middle of the night.

Ageing Sleep Patterns

 

As we age, a protein called beta amyloid gradually builds up in the brain. The more of this protein the less likely that we reach the deeper sleep states. After age 60, we can expect to wake three to four times each night

 

Need to Pee!

 

And the biggest reason we’re not getting enough sleep: going to the bathroom a million times a night!

 

No scientific studies needed here. Unfortunately, I have all the proof I need. 

 

Sleep Tips for Midlife Women

Middle aged woman sleeping in a dark room with eye mask

Darkness

 

Darkness signals your body that it’s time to rest. If your body isn’t getting the signal, you may need to turn down the lights even further. 

  • Get black out curtains to block light from neighbours and street lights.
  • Wear an eye mask. 
  • Avoid watching television, scrolling on your phone, or reading on tablets for at least an hour before bed. The blue lights from screens could be interrupting those important darkness signals.

Cool Rooms

 

Our bodies naturally cool down right before we fall asleep. Colder temperatures stimulate our bodies to release more melatonin – essential for sleep.

 

So an hour before bed, try turning down your thermostat or cracking a window. 

Last Call

Caffeine

Cut yourself off after lunch if you can, and reduce your overall intake. 

Alcohol 

Same goes for alcohol. A glass of wine feels relaxing in the moment. But drinking before bed tends to result in anxious dreams and a panicked wake-up about 2am. 

Snacks

Buttery popcorn, greasy pizza slices, and rich brownies can come back to haunt you. Avoid heartburn by limiting evening snacking.

Fluids

Stop drinking all fluids a few hours before bed to cut down on trips to the loo. 

 

Yoga for Better Sleep – Day and Night

 

Sleep tips for midlife women - middle aged woman does yoga in the daytime for a better sleep routine

Movement, meditation and breathwork get you out of your head and body-focused. That’s why all three are essential for women with sleep problems in midlife. 

 

This is how I suggest you use yoga for better sleep. 

In the Daytime

Middle aged woman does standing yoga in her bedroom to improve her sleep

Start your day with movement. 

Warm-ups

If morning exercise isn’t your thing, at least do some gentle warm-ups to loosen up your joints. Arm, leg and neck circles will all help with joint pain that may have settled in over the night. 

Vinyasa 

Lifting your heart rate during the day will encourage your body to take its rest at night. So try to fit in some vigorous practices – such as sun salutations and Vinyasa Flows – before the sun goes down. 

Before Bed 

 

Evenings are suited for more leisurely practices. Slowing down your movements encourages your thoughts to follow suit. Try a gentle Hatha or restorative practice with the lights low. 

 

Restorative yoga is especially good for sleep, because you’re supported by piles of blankets, pillows and bolsters. Instead of “holding” each pose, you let go into the shape for five to 10 minutes. This letting go combined with the dark environment activates your parasympathetic nervous system – the one nicknamed “rest and digest”. 

Restorative Yoga for Sleep

 

These are my top three favourite restorative poses before bed. I recommend covering yourself with a blanket, and using an eye mask or pillow. You want to feel as cozy as possible. 

Supported bridge 

Woman demonstrates supported bridge pose for sleep

Use WAY more pillows than shown in this photo!

This gentle inversion and backbend is wonderful for releasing tension before bed. 

 

Start by creating a “ramp” of pillows, with the high point under your hips, and the low point under your shoulders. You can also place a rolled up blanket under your neck to avoid it feeling crunched. 

 

Legs up the wall 

Restorative Yoga for sleep - a woman demonstrates legs up the wall, Viparita Karani

If you’re on your feet a lot or have varicose veins, this is a delicious pose. You’ll actually feel the lymph draining away from your feet. 

 

Lie with your back on the floor, and extend your legs up the wall, hips as close to the wall as feels comfortable. Some people like a pillow under the sacrum.

 

If extending your legs is uncomfortable, lay on the floor with your calves and feet over the seat of a chair or the arms on your couch. 

 

Try it for five to 10 minutes.

 

Reclined bound angle or butterfly pose. (Supta baddha konasana)

Woman demonstrates restorative yoga for sleep, reclined supta baddha konasana

You’ll want a whole nest of pillows for this one. Basically, you’ll be starting in a seated butterfly and then reclining into a backrest of pillows with your thighs and feet. 

 

All the supports allow your chest, abdomen, and hips to open gradually. Open your arms slightly to the sides, palms up, and resting on even more pillows or rolled up blankets. 

 

Yoga Nidra

Woman lies under an afghan on a yoga mat. The room is dark, her eyes are closed, there are candles by her head.

Yoga Nidra is the ultimate sleeping aid. Experts say that you’re supposed to remain conscious while your body and mind rest. I dare you to try! Most people find it impossible not to drift off.

 

Essentially, you listen as someone guides you to relax each part of your body over a period of 40 to 60 minutes. In this peaceful state, your pineal gland releases melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep.

 

Don’t worry if you don’t fall asleep. One of the benefits of Yoga Nidra is that a 40-minute session of conscious relaxation is equivalent to a four-hour nap. 

 

Meditation for Sleep 

Woman sits on bed in her pyjamas meditating to help her sleep

Meditation teaches your mind to focus on thoughts of your choice, like a mantra or how your breath feels as you exhale. 

 

When you find yourself worrying about tomorrow’s errands, you can stop quickly and return to your focal point before you get wound up.

 

Some people include meditation in their bedtime routine. But the truth is that meditation will help you sleep better no matter what time of day you practice.

 

The effects of meditation are cumulative. The first time you try it, nothing much happens. But over time, you’ll notice that it’s easier and easier to concentrate. 

Breathing Practices For Sleep

 

Breathwork is fabulous for improving sleep. It lowers your heart rate, reduces stress, and helps you focus on the present – three necessities for falling asleep. 

 

Here are two I’d recommend before bed.

Box Breathing

 

This involves four even counts of 4 – hence the idea of drawing a box with your breath.

  1. Breathe in to a count of 4.
  2. Hold for 4.
  3. Breathe out to a count of 4
  4. Wait 4 counts before inhaling.

 

Repeat 3 to 10 times until you feel relaxed. 

 

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Woman demonstrates alternate nostril breathing for better sleep

This one is a little more complicated, but excellent for re-balancing if you’re feeling off kilter. 

 

  1. Exhale completely. 
  2. Plug your left nostril, and breathe in slowly through the right.
  3. Release your left nostril, plug the right, and exhale slowly through the left.
  4. Inhale back through the left nostril. 
  5. Release your right nostril, plug the left, and exhale completely through the right.

 

Repeat 3 to 10 times. Then sit quietly with your eyes closed, noticing any changes in your body or mood. 

Sleeping Better in Midlife

 

There are a lot of exhausting sleep problems for women in our 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. Hormones, body pains, depression, and weak bladders are challenging opponents.  

 

Remember to prioritize my sleep tips for midlife women:

  • Set up your room for sleep – dark, cold, and quiet.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol.
  • Cultivate a healthy routine of yoga, meditation, and pranayama. 

 

And if you do find yourself on the couch again, flicking angrily through Netflix, remember to be kind to yourself and your body. Midlife women may be tired. But we are also strong, wise and resilient. After all, nothing has beaten us yet! 

 More tips for Yoga Routines

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Yoga Helps With Menopause Symptoms

Yoga Helps With Menopause Symptoms

It’s supposed to be our time for aging gracefully. But how can we feel graceful when midlife brings symptoms like insomnia, weight gain, irritability, and joint pain? Read on to learn how yoga helps with menopause symptoms – the 10 most common.

Yoga Strengthens Bones

 

A woman uses yoga to strengthen her bones after menopause. With grey hair in a pony tail, she does extended side angle pose using a block for support.

At every moment, cells in our bones are naturally deteriorating and regenerating. After menopause, the regrowth stage slows, so our bones start to lose density. This can lead to fractures, pain, loss of height, and even dowager’s hump (kyphosis).

How can yoga improve bone strength in perimenopause?

 

According to a 2016 study, six months of regular yoga was enough to improve bone density in women already suffering from osteoporosis.

How? Pressure stimulates bones to retain more of the calcium we get from food and supplements and slows the break-down part of the cycle, meaning we stop losing faster than we can rebuild.

We get this pressure from weight-bearing activities like running and walking. And yoga is even better, because it strengthens arm, spine and shoulder bones as well as legs.

Planks, side planks and crow poses all decrease your risk of fracturing arm or shoulder bones, while Warrior and Chair poses strengthen leg and foot bones.

Yoga Reduces Joint Pain

 

When estrogen levels drop after menopause, we can experience painful swelling in our joints, that sometimes turns into arthritis.

 

How does yoga help with joint pain?

 

When your joints hurt, you don’t feel like moving. But the less you move, the more joint pain increases.

Yoga is a great solution because movements are safe and gentle but still provide enough activity to make our joints feel better, and keep them operating in their full range.

Attend a full class a few times a week and do some gentle warm-ups like arm circles and leg lifts in between times to keep joints lubricated and moving in their full range.

 

Yoga Improves Sleep

 

Hands up…who’s having trouble sleeping?

40% of us struggle with terrible sleep in peri- and post-menopause. (Compared to only 12% before menopause). Blame the drop in estrogen and progesterone for insomnia, night sweats, restless legs, snoring and sleep apnea, and increased depression and anxiety.

How does yoga help with sleep?

 

A 2022 study found that yoga significantly improved sleep quality for post and perimenopausal women.

A regular yoga practice can make it easier to stick to healthy sleep routines.

Mindfulness practices increase melatonin which helps with going to sleep and sleeping more deeply.

And even the annoying symptoms of restless leg syndrome are shown to reduce in women who practiced yoga regularly for eight weeks.

And while yoga doesn’t stop night sweats, it can lessen the anxiety we feel about it. So when the hot flash is over, we get back to sleep more quickly.

Practice regulated breathing (pranayama) in bed, rather than let your mind run away into worries about tomorrow. Intentionally focus on a slower exhale to shift your body out of the sympathetic (fight or flight) function and into a parasympathetic (rest and digest) phase.

 

Yoga Helps Us Cope with Irritability

 

Irritability, sadness and mood swings are extremely common for women post-menopause. The drop in estrogen and progesterone can feel like constant PMS.

How does yoga help with irritability?

 

Focusing on sensations while we practice yoga actually enhances our ability to ride out waves of emotion in daily life. We get better at observing a situation and our emotional reaction without judgment.

For example, instead of shrieking at your family’s slobbiness, you might simply observe, “Seeing my family’s shoes and socks scattered around the entryway makes my heart beat really fast. My mind is filled with swear words. I feel like yelling. I’m experiencing rage about shoes.”

Then you get to choose between telling your family off now, or talking to them calmly after taking a brisk walk.

Yoga Supports Heart Health

 

After age 50, women’s risk of heart disease increases significantly. The good news is that women who get their hearts pumping by moving their bodies regularly have a lower chance of suffering from heart disease.

How does yoga help with heart health?

Yoga is a great option for those of us who don’t like the more obvious cardio exercises like running or team sports. Take a vinyasa class once a week. Or add a handful of sun salutations to your daily hatha practice.

Yoga improves heart health indirectly too. People who do yoga regularly are more likely to feel like engaging in other forms of exercise. A regular yoga class can also motivate you to eat healthier, quit smoking or cut down on alcohol intake.

Yoga Improves Balance

 

Of course, you know yoga helps with balance. Tree pose or Vrksasana is probably the most common image you’ll see if you search for yoga images online. But how does that relate to peri- and post-menopause?

Why Balance is Important after Menopause

 

Better balance prevents falls. And since falls can result in fractures for older women, balance is super important. So don’t skip Eagle and Tree just because they frustrate you. These poses help you keep your footing when pathways get icy or the dog rushes past you on the stairs.

Woman in forward fold

Yoga Increases Esteem

 

Perimenopause and menopause can really kick you right in the esteem. Not only are you dealing with moodiness, exhaustion, weight gain, and hot flashes, but you may also feel embarrassed about these perfectly normal symptoms.

How does yoga improve self-esteem after menopause?

 

A regular yoga practice maintains your confidence in your physical abilities: “So what if you’ve gained a few pounds! You can hold a Warrior 3 longer than any of them!”

Meditation brings your perspective back to your own inner experience. Remember that how you perceive the world is more important than how the world perceives you.

Yoga Reduces Chronic Pain

 

Chronic pain is an unfortunate reality for many women in later life. Migraines, fibromyalgia, back pain or arthritis can really tarnish your golden years.

How does yoga help with pain?

 

Lack of sleep makes pain feel worse. Take the edge off with restorative practices or yoga nidra to support a more restful sleep.

Even on tough days, try to do a few gentle postures or movements to keep joints limber. On better days, you can engage in more active practices.

Meditation and pranayama will help you manage stress throughout the day – another factor that worsens pain.

Woman focuses on her breath in meditation

Yoga Prevent Weight Gain

Gaining weight is one of the more common symptoms of aging. Hormone changes mean that we gain inches around our middles instead of our hips. We also lose overall muscle mass, which means that we aren’t burning as many calories as when we were younger. And if we’re sleeping poorly, we’re probably snacking more too.

How can yoga prevent weight gain after menopause?

Keeping up with your plank, boat and chair poses will help to maintain your calorie-burning muscle mass. Add in some morning vinyasas to get your heart pumping and some evening meditation to stave off snack-inducing insomnia.

Yoga Reduces Stress

 

Let’s be real. It’s not just hormones causing stress in mid-life.

We’re also juggling worries about careers, teenagers, aging parents, mortgage fluctuations, leaky roofs, a pandemic, inflation, climate change, the cat throwing up on the rug, and …what else you got?

How does yoga reduce stress in peri- and menopause?

 

Take a deep breath. And another. And another. This is what pranayama is for – reducing stress so we can focus on what really needs our attention.

Practicing pranayama regularly makes it more likely that you’ll reach for this technique when dealing with difficult traffic, difficult people, or difficult situations.

Just noticing your breath can be enough to slow your heart rate and your racing thoughts. Then you’ll be able to recognize which problems belong to you, and which belong to others.

A woman with greying hair in a pony tail uses yoga to help with menopause symptoms

Can Yoga Help with Menopause Symptoms?

 

The answer is a resounding YES!

Hormone changes in perimenopause and menopause can serve up a bumpy ride of physical, mental and emotional symptoms. But a regular yoga practice addresses all of them.

Asana supports bones, heart, joints, and balance, while reducing pain and limiting weight gain. Pranayama helps us cope with sleep loss and irritability. And meditation boosts our self-esteem, while providing a protective bubble that can insulate against stress and chronic pain.

If there’s a time for recognizing that yoga is a holistic system for supporting physical, emotional, and mental health, it’s definitely peri- and post-menopause.

 

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