A frequent symptom of perimenopause is insomnia. As if the hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings weren’t already enough, why not try going through it all without enough sleep?!
It’s not hard to see where humanity came up with the idea of divine trials: surely, it takes in intelligence to put 50% of the population through so much all at the same time and call it “natural”!
But there’s not much we can do about a trial, other than endure it and make it as manageable as possible, and remember: we’re not alone!
Difficulty getting to sleep and staying there affects 60% of perimenopausal women. The most telling thing about this statistic is that 40% of respondents are liars!
All jokes aside, every person has trouble sleeping from time-to-time. Even men if you’re to believe their whinging. And adequate sleep is a physiological and psychological need. This is the time our body needs to repair itself and our brain needs digest everything it’s taken in during the day.
My Nights in the Dark
In the good old days – before I was old – I had never really had trouble sleeping. Even at times of stress, I was generally okay, never suffering many consecutive nights of bad sleep or even complete wakefulness.
But that all changed when I entered the perimenopause.
Episodes of insomnia crept up on me. Restless nights slipped into a struggle to get to sleep, and then when I did finally sleep, I’d wake-up! Overheating or drenched in sweat or with my heart racing for no reason.
After a lifetime of good sleep, this change caused me real anguish. Every night, no matter what had happened the day before or what I had to do the next day, no matter how early or late I went to bed, I would find my eyes blearily opening to a pitch-black room; I’d roll over and look at my phone, and every night, I’d see the same time: 3:00 am.
I was exhausted. Worn down. I’d never had afternoon naps, but I started falling asleep in the afternoon! My concentration evaporated! My memory and recall: gone!
One morning, I woke, saw the time – 3:00am – and started to cry. I was just too tired.
But, once I got that out of my system, I realised the worst part of it, the real reason I was crying alone in the dark, was because I felt so powerless. I decided to dedicated myself to learning everything I could about insomnia and how to break it!
And, because I prefer to use naturally occurring medicines wherever possible, I became determined: to find what I needed to sleep through the night!
Know Your Enemy: The Dangers of Insomnia
Insufficient sleep – especially when it accumulates over many nights – can effect more than just our mood.
The impacts of sleep deprivation can range from decreased attention and less effective transfer of short-term memories to long-term (a process that generally happens at night): if you’re feeling you’re becoming more forgetful, this might be a cause.
More waking hours also promotes the body’s production of insulin, as the body works to burn more cheap energy in our power hungry wakeful state. But more insulin in the system doesn’t mean you’re burning fat. In another of the body’s cruel tricks, insulin actually tells the body that more energy is needed and so will not only make you crave more cheap-energy foods (carbohydrates!) but will then work to push that sugar you’re ingesting into fat storage. That’s right: not getting enough sleep can directly lead to weight gain! And it gets worse! More insulin and higher BMI will increase your risk of diabetes and raise your blood pressure.
Your lack of sleep can kill you!
And you know what? It gets even worse than that.
Sleep is also when your body fights infection and identifies, breaks down and replaces broken and bad cells. A bad night’s sleep reduces your immune system’s ability to protect you from everything from the common cold to cancer in a very real sense! Insomnia will kill you.
But there’s hope!
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How I worked to alleviate my insomnia
I talked to my friends and family; to pharmacists and doctors. I scoured the internet. I found a lot of people who had just assumed it was how it had to be, and many who wanted to prescribe pills.
Importantly, I found a range of suggestions that didn’t include drugs, supplements or extracts at all!
As a starting point, I found these lifestyle questions really helpful and revealing. When I quizzed myself on them I started to realise that there were a number of ways that I was sabotaging my own sleep before I even got to bed.
- How active are you each day? Making sure we get enough physical activity each day helps to ensure that we have the right amount of fatigue to get the right amount of sleep.
- Are you drinking coffee or energy drinks? Some stimulants may be OK, but too much and at the wrong times might be stopping you from resting. Try imposing some limitations and see if that helps you; maybe no coffee or stimulants after 3pm or noon. Perhaps none at all.
- When are you eating dinner? Try to give yourself at least 2 hours from the time you finish your last meal of the day and when you go to bed. Minimise the chances of digestive discomfort. A restless stomach can easily wake you up, and when that happens, who knows if you’ll be able to sleep again?
- Are you going to bed regularly? Try to go to bed at the same time each day. Your body likes regularity and rhythm so work with your body (after all, you are in this together!).
- Is your bed and bedroom comfortable? This may sound obvious, but many people put up with too hard or too soft mattresses in stuffy or freezing conditions. Be more Goldilocks! Your integral health is dependent on your getting enough, good sleep, so make sure your bedroom and bedding maintain the right temperature for you.
- What are you looking at in bed? Cut down screentime before bed. Phones, tablets and TVs can all stimulate the brain and feed our eyes blue spectrum light that tells our brain that it’s still daytime and we should be alert! Give yourself a break before bed, possibly even outlaw all screens from the bedroom!
- Are you calm? Try meditation before bed. Settle and centre your mind to relax and promote sleep.
Here’s the T(ea)
But I also found a lot of suggestions for plant extracts that could help.
These plants condition and improve the quality of sleep, apart, they relax and control anxiety.
I sought out everyone I could find and started trying them on myself. Which might work? What ones gave good quality of sleep, but didn’t make me drowsy in the day? How much to take? How soon before bed?
I would recommend starting with teas. There are lots of premixed, sleep-aid teas that really can help. A soothing, warm mug of one of these, 1-2 hours before bed can make a real difference in getting you off to sleep and keeping you there.
Look out for teas containing these ingredients. In all my experimentation, these are the plants I found to be really helpful.
A word of warning: make sure, any tea you do buy is decaffeinated! It may sound obvious, but trust me… it’s sometimes easy to miss.
- Passiflora/Passion Flower
- Valerian Root
- Chamomile (you’ll sometimes find Chamomile paired with Lavender – another sleep assisting flower. I do know people who swear by this tea, but for me, the lavender just makes me think of soap…and my grandmother’s soap at that!)
- California Poppy: this one is often easiest to find as a liquid extract, but for me, that just makes it all the easier to combine as much as I’d like to any of the other teas I might already be brewing!
When Tea Doesn’t Cut It
If teas and plant extracts aren’t working for you, or you need something a little more powerful sometimes, there are also a number of vitamin and mineral options I’d recommend before resorting to more substantial medications.
Have a look at:
- Melatonin Pills: I swear by these, especially for combatting jet-lag or in situations where you need to “reset” your body clock. For me, melatonin pills can help me feel really drowsy very quickly (sometimes in as little as 10-15 minutes). What melatonin doesn’t give me though is deep sleep, and I’ve found that if I do take melatonin pills, and then for whatever reason, wake up, I’ll struggle to get back to sleep again. So, try to use these pills in situations where you know you’ll be able to rest in peace.
- Magnesium Pills: Now magnesium pills don’t get me to quite such a drowsy place, but they do improve the quality of my sleep when I get there. If you’re in need of a really restorative, deep sleep, I’d recommend giving magnesium supplements a try.
- All-in-One: Of course, if you’re less interested in finding a tailored solution to whichever flavour of insomnia you’re suffering from, you can always try throwing everything at it all at once. These Go To Sleep Pills contain melatonin, magnesium, Valerian Root and a whole host of other naturally occurring sleep aids.
I’m very happy to report that between increased physical activity, practicing mindfulness, regular use of evening teas and occasional use of sleep aids, my insomnia is a thing of the past.
It’s been years now since I saw the dreaded 3:00am on my phone.
But it’s important to remember that these solutions still don’t answer everyone’s needs. I’m one of the lucky ones! It turned out that my problem was an easily fixable one, once I acknowledged there was a problem that I could fix.
If you’re one of the less lucky ones, and you’ve tried all of these teas and every supplement and you’re still suffering from irregular sleep patterns, then my heart goes out to you! Seek out medical advice. Much as we might try to stick to natural solutions, there are still many circumstances and conditions that can only be resolved by professional help and more serious treatment. But don’t give up! There will be a solution that fits you.
Good luck! Please let me know how you get on or what other solutions you find that help you.