Menopause diaries - sleepless nights

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I thought this would be a great piece to start the new year as most people I know have suffered from restless sleep or insomnia at some point in their lives. In fact according to the NHS a third of the the population suffer from insomnia. If you’re one of those people don’t let the Menopause title put you off. All the advice and treatments below will suit anyone with sleeping issues.

By Wendy Turner

Let’s be honest, sleep deprivation can end up being like a form of torture – it’s cruel and can actually make you feel like you're going out of your mind. It screws with your energy levels, your memory (mine wasn’t the best anyway), your concentration (I am no longer a women who can multi-task), your mood, and your relationship with most of your family members and work colleagues. Now there are different levels of sleep deprivation – waking up a few times a night where you can nod back off in 10 minutes and in the morning you’re left feeling a little groggy. Then for myself it was swiftly followed by stage two – waking up a few times in the night with the joy of feeling completely wired so you don’t get back to sleep for at least 90 minutes, followed by your alarm 30 minutes later, leaving you feeling like you’ve just woken from the dead. The final stage – waking up 20 times a night and NEVER going in a deep sleep, leaving you feeling like a complete zombie and an irritable one at that. I could barely function after a year and I didn’t even recognise myself. My sense of humour was questionable. I could really understand at this point the importance of sleep and how important it is for your physical and mental wellbeing.

Through this journey the anxiety kicks in nicely. Something I’ve never had in my life before. This is from the hormone imbalance in your body and the fact that you’re completely wrung out. I went to the doctors at this point and like I said in a previous blog, I really wasn’t coping. Unfortunately, there are two options at the GPs – sleeping tablets and HRT.

Sleeping tablets didn’t work for me as I still didn’t really sleep and they made me feel incredibly groggy until lunch. HRT is another story which I’ll go into in more detail later but that didn’t suit me either. Personally, I think we should have a better understanding of why our bodies are behaving like this and get to the root of the problem especially if the drugs don’t work! If you can bare with me I’ll give you a brief explanation to why the menopause causes sleep deprivation. 

Hormone imbalance
Your oestrogen and progesterone levels decrease during menopause. This can trigger a number of changes in your lifestyle, particularly in your sleeping habits. This is partly because progesterone is a sleep-producing hormone. While your body copes with these dwindling hormone levels, you may find it harder to fall asleep and more difficult to stay asleep.

Hot flashes (flushes)
Hot flashes and night sweats are two of the most common side effects of menopause. As your hormone levels fluctuate, you may feel as if you’re having sudden surges and drops in your body temperature. It can take a while for your body to recover from this and settle back down to sleep.

You’re actually experiencing a surge of adrenaline that’s caused by the rapid decrease of hormones. This is the same chemical responsible for your reaction to stress or a fight-or-flight scenario. Your body may have a hard time recovering from this sudden surge of energy, making it difficult for you to fall back asleep. It can feel very chemical and lead to anxiety.

For some people prescription drugs work and are really needed in some cases. For myself they really did’t get the results I wanted from them. After trying prescription drugs, I also wanted to get a sense of what my body needing and try and get to the root of the problem. Here are all the treatments and supplements I’ve tried with a couple of recommendations from some ladies out there.

Sleeping Aids
I’m a big believer in these but of the natural kind. I’ve tried and tested most but there are some that have been recommended by other women. The brand is just as important as what you’re taking. Quality is key here I’m afraid. I will also say that it may take you a while to find the correct mix and balance that suits you. Also please research and make sure there will be no contraindications to your health.

Magnesium – this is my most successful so far. It’s a muscle relaxant and even though your brain is an organ, it behaves as a muscle. It will help you drift off back to sleep much easier. It’s also been linked to helping depression.
Melatonin – this is what your brain naturally produces to help you sleep. A little added dose makes it much easier. It’s been popular to help alleviate jet lag.
Magnesium Taurate and L-Thiamine – highly recommended from a friend. The magnesium has the results stated above while L-Thiamine appears to stimulate the production of alpha brain waves creating a state of deep relaxation and mental alertness similar to that achieved through meditation, promoting a relaxed, yet alert state of mind, without sedation. 
Tryptophan – one of the benefits is that it helps niacin and thus serotonin. The benefits from more serotonin include better quality of sleep and the relief of anxiety and depression.
Valarium tea – a family favourite to help you wind down just before bedtime. It really does help you drift off to sleep but can’t be used every day or it will lose its potency.
Beauty sleep supplement – these have lots of ingredients that help contribute to the reduction of tiredness, fatigue. They also help production of cells to help maintain skin, hair and nails.

This was the biggest help and had the most impact on my body during my menopause. I’ll go into more detail about acupuncture in another blog as it deserves one all of its own. As for helping you sleep acupuncture, is a gentle, natural way of balancing your hormones therefore reducing your hormone symptoms – reducing hot flashes, insomnia and irritability and inducing better sleep. Acupuncture doesn’t treat any two people alike. Your acupuncturist will take your medical and emotional history and put together a treatment recognising that the symptoms you’re feeling will change at each visit. I see Esaias at Acupuncture Works and I can’t recommend him enough if you’re in the Lewes area.

Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness or meditation can’t entirely remove the symptoms of the menopause but it can help you deal with them and promote sleep. Learning these simple techniques to focus our awareness, relax the body, and ride out the storm, (whether the storm is physical or emotional) reduce your anxiety and slow your mind down so it’s easier to drift off to sleep. For myself this was must when I was riding the worst of my anxiety and sleep deprivation. It could lower my anxiety from an 8 to a 2 in just fifteen minutes. I used an app called Calm but you can also try Headspace. You will get the best results if you can commit to doing it every day (preferably in the morning). Personally I just used it when I needed it.

2:1 Breathing
This really helps me in the middle of the night when you can’t get back to sleep. It slows down your breathing and your mind. Let the inhalation and exhalation be approximately equal in length. Gradually deepen the breath and slow it down: On your next exhalation, gently engage your abdominal muscles and push a little extra air out of the lungs. Allow your abdomen to rise slightly higher as you inhale. Then begin to count your in- and out-breaths in even ratios—starting, perhaps, with 3:3, then moving up to 6:6—whatever is within your comfortable capacity. I’m personally comfortable with 5:5.

Regular aerobic exercise can improve the quality of your sleep, mood, and vitality. A study included 23 sedentary people; most were women age 55 and older with insomnia. Half the group began doing moderate aerobic exercise four times a week. At the end of the study, those who exercised reported significant improvements in sleep, for myself I can’t do it after 8pm. I commit to a Pilates class every Saturday for several reasons but it’s incredible that it manages to straighten out my head as much as my body!

I really want to emphasise to you ladies reading this if you’ve just started the menopause that it doesn’t effect everyone like it affected me. I have friends that sailed through it with barely a symptom. All I know is that after speaking to friends, family and readers, is that sleep deprivation is common and is one of the hardest parts of being on the menopause.

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