Sleeping Well During Stressful Times: Yes, It's Possible
By Kathleen N. Webber | April 7, 2020
These past few weeks have felt like months for most of us, and, for the time being, it may seem like there's no end in sight for our new Covid-19 reality. Googling symptoms and worrying about loved ones, synthesizing the latest news, imagining retirement accounts evaporating and adapting to our new work-from-home lives has impacted both our psyche and our sleep. Even the calmest, coolest cucumbers are finding themselves longing for slumber.
If you're menopausal, your chances of experiencing insomnia only increase. Decreasing levels of progesterone, a sleep-producing hormone, will make it even harder to fall and stay asleep. This tricky combo of age and pandemic can spell trouble. We need deep sleep to not only boost immune function but to build up energy for the next day, which is vital in tumultuous times.
But just exactly how are we supposed to get some shut eye when we're so stressed? Here, five ways to get the sleep you need.
1. Set yourself up for success.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, women in midlife (up to age 64) should aim for seven to nine hours of sleep a night. But what you do during the day will affect both the duration and quality of your slumber. Try to maintain healthy habits. While the gym may be closed for the foreseeable future, getting your steps and exercise in is as easy as picking up the dog leash, doing the stairs or getting down on the yoga mat to stretch out the stress. Avoid sleep disruptors like caffeine and alcohol (while a sedative, the latter prevents deep stages of restorative sleep) and skip the large meals, especially spicy ones that can trigger hot flashes.
2. Create an ideal environment.
In your bedroom, control temperature, light and noise as much as you can. Set the thermostat for 60 to 67 degrees for optimal sleep, says the NSF. A room that's too warm can affect the quality of your REM sleep, the deep sleep stage in which you dream. Think of creating a cave-like environment - cool and dark - with room-darkening shades and a fan or AC to lull you to sleep and keep you there. The buzzing and blinking of alarm clocks and cell phones can stimulate your brain even while you're asleep, so turn those off and place them away from your bed. In addition, the screen's blue light interferes with the production of melatonin, the chemical your brain produces to regulate sleep. So, if possible, power down far in advance of your bedtime.
3. Dress the bed.
Selecting sheets that trap less heat and feel cooler to the touch will help you avoid waking up in a sweat. Breathable eucalyptus and bamboo have natural temperature-regulating properties, while cotton percale is cool to the touch. Many women like the cool feel of a silk pillowcase to help induce and promote sleep - plus quality silk, such as Mulberry, can help reduce fine lines and creases on the face; whereas cotton pillowcases draw out moisture and may cause skin irritation and breakouts. Finally, a touch of lavender essential oil can also help you drift off.
4. Tap an app.
Mindfulness techniques and meditation can go a long way in promoting deep sleep, and apps are an easy way to facilitate both. Whether you choose deep breathing exercises on your own or enlist the help of an app, meditation can lower blood pressure, reduce stress and anxiety levels and curb insomnia. The Calm sleep and meditation app features storytelling followed by sounds of nature. One of the app features is "Bedtime Stories" and its most famous reader the soothing-voiced Matthew McConaughey. The Stop, Breathe & Think app first asks how you're doing emotionally, then suggests meditations based on your state of mind. To design their meditation tracks, the team behind the Stop, Breathe & Think app relied on clinical research in addition to Indian and Tibetan meditation traditions. Relax Melodies has curated 100 soundscapes and guided meditations. There's everything from a cat purring to rain, or you can customize your own sound that will help you drift off.
5. Lower your body thermostat.
Women in menopause know the unique misery of the middle-of-the-night hot flash. The most common symptom of hormonal changes during menopause, hot flashes affect not only your sleep quality, but your next-day energy level, as well. While there's no way to prevent them, Pause Hot Flash Cooling Mist provides real-time relief by creating the sensation of lowering your body's surface temperature, cooling and calming skin, reducing redness and evaporating sweat. Keep it on your nightstand for quick access or for a few pre-emptive spritzes to pulse points before bed - back of neck, wrists, décolléte. A bit of dedicated pre-bed misting will cool you down and help you drift right off.
Kathleen N. Webber is a freelance writer who has written about fashion and retail, beauty and wellness, and the environment for Women's Wear Daily, W, Women's Health, The Philadelphia Inquirer and EcoWatch.