Foods to help you sleep better during the perimenopause
Updated: Jul 5, 2022
Now, you may already know that the perimenopause can last between four and eight years. The average age for women when the perimenopause starts is about 45 and it can start earlier, even in your thirties for some women. It goes on until the menopause, when your periods stop which is typically around age 51. However, it can feel a lot longer if you're not sleeping well.
Reasons why sleep is problematic during the perimenopause
There are lots of reasons why sleep becomes erratic during the perimenopause, and some of this has to do with your cycle. You're still having periods during the perimenopause but your cycle may have changed, it might have got shorter or it might have got longer. Often just before your period starts your sleep can get erratic, around the time you start getting symptoms of PMT. And a lot of my clients say to me that when they track when they're having issues with their sleep, they find that it is in that week before their period comes. That's a lot to do with hormonal changes that are going on during your cycle with fluctuation in oestrogen and progesterone levels.
Progesterone is sometimes referred to as nature's tranquilliser and it has a very calming effect on the body. Whilst there is a lot of focus on oestrogen during the perimenopause, the drop in progesterone plays quite a large role in some of the symptoms that you might be experiencing, such as increased levels of anxiety and an inability to deal with stress. If you're feeling a bit more stressed and anxious this will raise cortisol levels which can also impact on sleep. Maybe you are worrying about things when you go to bed, which can make it hard to fall asleep, or you wake up in the middle of the night.
Another reason for sleep issues can be blood sugar imbalances. If your blood sugars are crashing in the middle of the night, then that can cause the release of cortisol which wakes you up. This can contribute to the middle of the night awakenings that seem to be quite common with a lot of clients that I talk to. There can also be physical things going on in the night, such as hot flushes, waking up with night sweats or needing to go to the toilet.
In this blog I’m going to cover some foods that can help you to balance your sleepy hormones and share some ideas for light bedtime snacks that might be helpful for helping you stay asleep all night.
Food that can support sleep
Blood Sugar Balance
The more carbs you eat, the more glucose is in your blood and the higher the amount of insulin that your body needs to restore blood sugar balance. If your diet is high in starchy carbs like bread, rice, pasta and sugars, you make more insulin, which creates blood sugar fluctuations at night, and these cause sleep disturbances. A sugar ‘crash’ at night triggers a release of cortisol to wake you up at the wrong time, and this can shift you out of deep sleep into a lighter sleep phase.
Moving to a way of eating that balances your blood sugar helps significantly improve the quality of your sleep. This means getting the right balance of protein and carbohydrates with each meal, including breakfast! If you look at your plate of food, then carbohydrates should be a quarter of the plate and protein should be a quarter of the plate. And then the other side of the plate should be fresh, fresh fruit and vegetables.
You may have heard of melatonin, it's a hormone that helps that helps regulate our sleep. To make melatonin, you need something called tryptophan which is found in many types of protein. You'll find tryptophan in things like turkey, chicken, cheddar cheese, shrimp, tuna sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, eggs and peanut butter.
To make melatonin you also need calcium. Calcium is doubly important during the perimenopause for supporting bone health and preventing osteoporosis as your oestrogen levels decline. You find good sources of calcium in cottage cheese, parmesan cheese, leafy green vegetables such as spinach and green cabbage, the edible bones in tinned sardines/mackerel and Greek yoghurt.
Magnesium is very relaxing as it calms both your muscles and nervous system. Make sure that you've got foods which contain magnesium such as leafy green veggies, spinach, cabbage and broccoli. Pumpkin seeds are also good sources as are almonds, chickpeas and cashew nuts.
B vitamins are needed for the manufacturer of neurotransmitters that we have in our nervous system. Good sources include leafy green veg such as spinach, kale, green cabbage, swiss chard and spring greens. Broccoli, cauliflower, chickpeas and black beans are also great sources of B vitamins.
Caffeine takes quite a long time for our bodies to metabolise. In general, most people take 4 to 6 hours to process only half of the caffeine from a cup of tea or coffee. So if you're having trouble sleeping then that cup of coffee you had at 4:00pm could still be in your system at night when you’re trying to get to sleep. So if you are having trouble dropping off or you're having a lot of interruptions to your sleep, then one suggestion is to try enjoying your caffeine before midday. After lunch try switching to decaffeinated versions of tea and coffee, or think about trying herbal teas or any other drinks that don't contain caffeine.
Light Bedtime Snacks
Excellent news for bedtime snackers: the right pre-bed snack can stabilize blood-sugar levels and promote the release of sleepy hormones. Focus on pre-bedtime bites rich in sleep-inducing nutrients like magnesium, tryptophan and B-vitamins. Keep servings small, and consider specific foods that have been shown to promote slumber:
Sliced kiwi and raw cashews
Cottage cheese with raspberries
Hummus with whole-grain crackers or oat cakes
A Greek yogurt, kale and cherry smoothie
Popcorn with grated parmesan cheese
As a women living the roller coaster experience that the menopause gives us, you’ll know its no laughing matter. You should always talk to your doctor about symptoms you are particularly concerned about, but there is such a lot you can do to get better sleep and feel more energised than you do right now.
I warmly invite you to book your free health and energy review. This is a free 30 minute session over the phone or by zoom where I can give you some personalised nutrition tips to get you back on track. Book a free slot using this link>>