One of the most difficult challenges a lot of us will face during our menopausal transition is sleepless nights. We read all the time these days about how essential sleep is for our overall health and wellbeing, but nobody seems to have told our hormones that…
I asked a few similarly mid-menopausal friends this week how they’ve been sleeping. Every one of them has struggled with insomnia to a greater or lesser extent. Some struggle to get to sleep, others wake up at 4 a.m. or multiple times during the night, and some hardly sleep at all. Each of them has put together their own individual toolkit to manage the situation. Apparently, I have very proactive friends who like to take care of themselves, yay!
So, here’s what some of them recommended:
BE KIND TO YOURSELF!!!
She put it in all SHOUTY CAPS with several exclamation marks:). Don’t beat yourself up about not being able to sleep. It’s a very common problem, especially during this life phase. You’re not doing anything wrong! If you wake up at 4 a.m., try saying to yourself “Ok, I’m awake, that’s fine, I’ll rest until it’s time to get up”. And if you know any breathing exercises, this is the time to use them to calm your nervous system (count four in, six out, rinse and repeat).
Find a way to accept it
One friend reminded me that we’ve only been sleeping through the night for a couple of centuries. Pre-industrialisation, we used to sleep in two shifts. Knowing this helped her accept it and she sometimes gets up and does something like empty the dishwasher or read a few pages of her book before starting her second shift. She has managed to change her mindset around sleeping and has begun to sleep better:).
Be rigorous about bedtimes
Every sleep expert I’ve listened to, plus my expert friends (see above;)) stick to the same bedtime every night and the same getting-up time every morning, even at the weekend. This routine helps maintain our body’s internal clock and trains our brains to expect sleep.
Read up about Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for insomnia
CBT is a proven way to change our patterns of behaviour. And it can be applied to insomnia too. Journaling (with pen and paper), learning how to empty your mind, sleep meditations, wave sounds, Harry Styles reading a boring story – all of these can be helpful. And you’re awake anyway, so why not start practicing some of them instead of lying in bed worrying?
I’m on hormone replacement therapy, and taking my progesterone before I go to sleep along with a magnesium 400 pill has worked wonders for me. The progesterone makes me drowsy and the magnesium relaxes my nervous system. This was recommended by my gynaecologist but please check with your health care practitioner before trying it yourself. I am not a medical professional, I’m just sharing what has worked for me.
Caffeine and alcohol
Try to only consume caffeine (a version of which is also in tea by the way) before mid-afternoon so you’re not wired when it’s time to go to bed. And think about reducing alcohol intake. Our menopausal bodies don’t deal with it very well and for me even one or two small glasses of wine can cause hot flushes, which wake me up, which is exactly what I don’t want. I still enjoy the odd glass here and there with friends, but that’s a choice I make and I accept that I’ll probably have a broken night’s sleep afterwards.
Instead of being anxious about not sleeping, try to focus on reducing stress in your life in general. If you can manage that, it’s much more likely that you’ll start sleeping better. One of my sleepless friends managed to carve out some time each day to nap or do a 30-minute meditation or breathing exercise. Even this short break helped her feel calmer and reduce her general stress level. By combining that with with some of the other methods above, she now sleeps better. Not perfectly all the time, but much better than before.
So, thanks friends for all your great tips and advice! I hope this will help some of our readers here and at least point them in the right direction. Speaking of which, here’s a to a podcast with a sleep expert who goes into more detail on CBT for insomnia and how it can be useful.
All the best and sweet dreams everyone!
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