Written by Marcia Kester Doyle
When I was in my early twenties, I could easily function on four hours of sleep. If I tried doing that today at the age of 61, I'd suffer from severe brain fog and would most likely end up eating a bowl of coffee grounds instead of cereal for breakfast.
Trying to sleep during menopause changed my bedtime pattern, and not in a good way. I didn't have a problem falling asleep; I had trouble staying asleep. Between a demanding bladder and insomnia, I wasn't getting that much-needed REM sleep. I was desperate for a good night's rest, but my brain liked to play 20 questions at 3:00 a.m.: "Remember that argument you had with your dad about your curfew in high school? Did you lock the front door? Turn off the stove? Pay the mortgage on time? What was the name of that song you loved in college? Did the dog pee when you let him out…?"
I couldn't go back to sleep until I got out of bed, checked all the locks, and made sure the dog didn't have an accident on the carpet. I'd even tried counting sheep, but I'd counted so many that I had a wool sweater with a matching set of mittens by the end of every night. I was confident that if I kept up the nightly sheep herding, a scarf would be next.
Experiencing hot flashes while trying to sleep (or what I know now are called night sweats) was another symptom of menopause that wreaked havoc on my nightly routine. At first, I thought someone in our house was messing with the thermostat because there was no way I would have cranked up those numbers to match Mercury's temperature. For me, it was a nightly struggle of sheets on, sheets off —freezing one moment, sweating the next. Dealing with night sweats meant waking up to damp sheets sticking to my skin like a wet eggroll wrapper.
Menopause sleeplessness also had a negative impact on my frame of mind during the day. I was irritable and impatient with zero energy to do much of anything around the house, including cleaning it. The dust bunnies in our home had colonized under the couch, and even the dog figured out how to open his own cans of food. My husband discovered that the best tactic to deal with my hormonal mood swings was to toss me an oversized chocolate bar and the television remote each night.
I took comfort in knowing that I wasn't alone in my struggle with menopause sleep problems. I joined a group of midlife women on social media who shared ideas to combat their menopause symptoms, especially regarding night sweats and sleeplessness. Exercise to stretch the muscles, meditation to quiet the mind, avoiding fatty/spicy foods, caffeine, and alcohol at dinnertime, and refraining from screen time an hour before bed, all helped. Some of the women found relief for their menopause symptoms in prescriptions and over-the-counter remedies.
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Tired of living a nocturnal existence, I took my friends' advice and found a measure of peace when my head hit the pillow. The key was creating the perfect sleep environment: cooler temperatures on the thermostat, a darkened room, little noise, and a comfy mattress.
Now that I've found these simple remedies to improve my sleep and my frame of mind, I no longer wake looking like a startled raccoon. With the brain fog lifted, I feel like my old self again, and even the dust bunnies have finally vacated the premises.