Good sleep is something we often take for granted, but it’s only when we’re not getting a good eight hours’ snooze time that we really notice its effects. This couldn’t be more true for women during perimenopause, who often struggle to get a good night’s sleep thanks to the changes going on in their bodies. It’s good to know what actually happens while you are asleep. While you are snoozing away, your brain is busy forming new pathways to help you store information and working on storing memories. This in turn gives you more focus in your waking hours and helps you to think more creatively. Let’s look at some research that helps explains this. In a study, scientists at the University of California (1) highlighted the importance of deep sleep in making memories stick. Memories made when you are awake are temporarily stored in the hippocampus in the brain. They move to the cortex during sleep to become long-term memories. The researchers showed that whatever was happening in the hippocampus influenced activity in the cortex. The patterns produced influenced changes in the cortex. All the activity put together meant that the brain continually replayed specific events to embed them in long-term memory. We also know how important sleep is to repair the body. It promotes healing and repair of the heart and blood vessels, tissues and cells, and helps keep a good balance of the hormones that make you feel either hungry or satisfied. If you don’t get a good night's sleep, those hungry hormones entice you to eat more, and you will be at greater risk of becoming overweight. It also helps keep your immune system in good shape. Research carried out at the University of Tübingen in Germany (2) found a link between sleep and how well the immune system works. The team found that people who had a refreshing night’s sleep had better functioning T cells, a type of white blood cell that is essential to the immune system. Comparing T cells in people who were awake with those sleeping, they found that those in the sleepers had higher levels of integrin activation. Integrins are proteins that T cells release in response to infection in the body. So the research demonstrated a clear link between infection-fighting and sleeping, proving that sleep is a weapon in the battle against illness.
How sleep deprivation is a vicious circleBut what happens when you can’t sleep? Many of us have gone through periods when a good night’s sleep has evaded us, especially if we are going through life changes such as the perimenopause. We have all had the experience of being wide awake in the middle of the night, going over negative thoughts and anxieties. While you stay awake worrying, levels of the stress-response hormones cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine rise. This keeps us alert and awake, so it’s even more difficult to get to sleep. This then creates a vicious circle – a lack of sleep creates stress, and that stress in turn stops sleep. It’s a difficult situation to break out of.
The effect of perimenopause on sleepThis problem can get worse for women in perimenopause. A study published in the journal Nature and Science of Sleep (3) reported that between 40% and 56% of perimenopausal women questioned said that they were experiencing sleep difficulties. Moreover, 26% of the participants said that they were experiencing severe sleep issues that impacted on their life to the extent that they were insomniacs. It’s interesting to know why sleeplessness is so relevant to perimenopausal women. It is triggered by a reduction in the hormones progesterone, oestrogen and testosterone, which play a part in regulating mood and aiding sleep. Oestrogen, for example, uses serotonin and other natural chemicals to get you to sleep. It also promotes good-quality sleep with fewer interruptions. It stands to reason that while these hormones are in decline, perimenopausal women are susceptible to insomnia and interrupted sleep, and so the vicious circle continues.
7 natural remedies to the rescueBut help is at hand. We’ve picked out seven natural remedies that can aid restful sleep during perimenopause, each with its own unique and powerful components. Let’s take a look at what these super supplements can do to aid restful slumber.
1. Valerian root extractThis plant found in Europe and Asia is a popular natural supplement to promote restful sleep. A study published in Neuropharmacology (4) found that valerenic acid, found in the root of the plant, stops the breakdown of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This is a chemical messenger that helps keep nerve impulses in the nervous system and brain steady. This means that it gets you feeling relaxed and helps you get to sleep. Meanwhile, a review of randomised, placebo-controlled trials of valerian root extract for sleep quality (5) found that the herbal supplement could improve the quality of sleep without any side effects.
2. Turmeric extract 95% curcuminoids
You may be more familiar with this distinctive yellow substance as a spice you use in cooking exotic dishes. But turmeric also has some surprising health benefits, including the ability to induce restful sleep. A group of substances called curcuminoids found in turmeric is believed to have many health-promoting properties. One of these is protecting against the effects of sleep deprivation. Research (6) found that in sleep-deprived mice treated with curcumin extract, anxiety was relieved and they were able to carry out tasks better than mice who did not receive the extract. Logic suggests that taking this extract could break the vicious circle of sleep deprivation and ongoing insomnia. A turmeric extract with 95% curcuminoids is recommended to bring maximum benefit.
3. Reishi mushroom extractThe Reishi mushroom is found in Asia, and has played an important role in traditional Chinese and Japanese medicine for thousands of years. It is known for a host of health benefits, including its ability to boost the immune system and alleviate tiredness and depression. As a sleep aid, Reishi mushroom extract acts as a tranquilliser, mimicking benzodiazepines but without their side effects. This was evidenced in a study published in Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior (7). It explained that the extract enabled rats to fall asleep quicker and enjoy a longer sleep.
4. PassionflowerA vine with intensely coloured flowers, the passionflower has been used by Native Americans for many years for its medicinal properties. Just like valerian root extract, it boosts GABA levels in the brain, making you feel relaxed and aiding restful sleep. A study exploring the effect of passionflower extract on people with epilepsy (8) proved this increase in GABA in the human brain, and demonstrated that it counteracted anxiety, as well as having anticonvulsant effects.
5. Kakadu plumThe kakadu plum is native to Australia, and, despite its tiny size, is packed full of nutrients. What’s astounding about this mini fruit is its concentration of vitamin C – it contains 3,230% of your recommended daily dose. In fact, a study (9) described kakadu plum as the fruit with the richest source of vitamin C in the world. It really is that powerful! The good news is that vitamin C contributes to satisfying sleep by lowering stress hormones such as cortisol and helping you to wind down for a restful night.
6. L-TheanineL-theanine is a non-essential amino acid with some interesting benefits, especially for perimenopausal women struggling to get a good night’s sleep It can be found in the leaves of both green and black tea, as well as in Bay Bolete mushrooms. For convenience, it is also available as a pill. In 2016, an Australian research team (10) found that the amino acid stimulates alpha waves in the brain, making you feel relaxed and happy, and helping you get a good night’s sleep.
7. Himalayan crystal salt
Himalayan crystal salt originates from the Khewra salt mine in Pakistan. It is packed full of minerals, and gets its distinctive pink tones from its iron content. When used in lamp form, the salt is believed to act as an ioniser, altering the electrical charge of the air and helping to remove impurities. This is believed to happen because the salt attracts water, which then evaporates with salt particles as the lamp heats up. A study carried out at the University of Karachi in Pakistan (11) found that after rats were exposed to salt lamps, they showed increased levels of the essential amino acid tryptophan in their brains. Tryptophan plays an important role in helping the body to produce the hormones serotonin, a mood enhancer, and melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This is why Himalayan salt crystal, in all its forms, is associated with enhanced mood and a deep, refreshing night’s sleep.