We spend a third of our lives in bed, yet restful, restorative sleep eludes so many of us. And for women in their late 30s and 40s, insomnia may be a sign that they're experiencing perimenopause, the transitional period before menopause.

During perimenopause and menopause, a woman's ovaries gradually decrease the production of estrogen and progesterone, a hormone that promotes sleep. This hormonal imbalance can make it difficult to fall asleep and also make a woman more susceptible to stressors that can disrupt sleep.

Hot flashes, a common symptom of menopause, not only cause a dramatic change in body temperature but also produce a surge of adrenaline, which can wake the brain from sleep. Unfortunately it can take a while for the adrenaline to recede and the brain to settle down again, leaving you wide awake and watching the clock.

To get some shut-eye naturally, here are the basics:

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule.
  • Develop a relaxing bedtime routine and a cool, dark, quiet, and comfortable sleep environment.
  • Invest in a good mattress and pillows.
  • Avoid eating right before bed.
  • Exercise regularly.

Several herbs and supplements show promise for alleviating insomnia. If you're already taking black cohosh for hot flashes, there's a good chance you'll experience a side benefit of improved sleep. Black cohosh is a sedative that helps dilate the blood vessels and is particularly helpful when insomnia or anxiety are caused by menstrual complaints (such as during perimenopause).

Long known for its relaxing qualities, chamomile is a natural anti-inflammatory. Brew chamomile before bedtime to set the stage for a restful night.

Valerian has been found in multiple studies to be an effective treatment for mild to moderate insomnia. Take a valerian root supplement 30 minutes before bedtime, and look for valerian tea as well.

Essential fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, act as sedatives. They are also good for hot flashes and support estrogen production.

Melatonin, the brain chemical associated with darkness, may also be helpful. Melatonin has a mildly sedating effect, and a supplement taken 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime may improve mental clarity the day following.

Finally, be sure to take a high-quality daily multivitamin/mineral formula. Calcium and magnesium will help relieve nervousness and irritability, helping to promote sleep. A multi will also provide potassium, which protects the nervous system and is lost through perspiration during hot flashes. A good multivitamin will provide all the nutrients needed for normal hormone production and function.

If you're experiencing perimenopause or menopause, talk to your healthcare practitioner about which remedies are best for you. Sleeplessness is commonly associated with this stage of life, but it may be possible to achieve a more restful sleep naturally.

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