Sleep, Wherefore Art Thou Sleep??

I seem to be awake a lot at night.  Is anyone with me on this? From what I hear, this is part and parcel of being a "woman of a certain age".  Grrr...haven't women suffered enough? Do we really need sleeplessness too?

Up until about a year ago, I would have told you that I slept well.  In fact, I might have bragged a little about how well I slept.  After years of sleep interrupted by pregnancy and small children, I had finally hit my groove of being able to sleep through the night.  We had purchased a new memory foam mattress several years back that had changed my life, I had found the perfect pillow, my children were now (finally) sleeping through the night, and I had been put on daily allergy medicine (may cause drowsiness zzzz....).  My bedtime ritual involved putting on my comfiest warm pajamas and socks, climbing into my cozy flannel sheet lined bed, saying goodnight to my husband, rolling over once, and then sleeping until my alarm went off in the morning.  Granted, this was never a long night's sleep- six hours seemed to be the max and I'm sure exhaustion had a lot to do with it-- but it was a pure, deep, peaceful sleep.  The glory days I like to call them.

My how things have changed!

Awhile back, I started having occasional nights where I would wake up in a sweat.  Besides the obvious fact that I was covered in many layers, I started to suspect that there were some hormonal issues at work.  Thankfully those nights didn't come around often, but when they did they were very disruptive.  How could someone who had been cold her whole life suddenly wake up in a sweat? It was rather disorienting.  Kind of like waking up with a different face.  Who am I if not the cold one?? Then, there was this slow but steady increase in my daily base temperature. It wasn't hot flashes exactly (although I have had some of those too), but rather like I was growing warmer by the day.  Was this a new thing?

My nights started to become very unpredictable.  Sometimes hot, sometimes cold.  Sometimes perfectly comfortable, but still frustratingly awake.  I no longer rolled over once and went to sleep, I started tossing and turning a lot each night.  I decided it was time to make some changes.

First, it was the flannel sheets.  As much as I loved the softness and the feeling of getting into a warm bed, I could no longer handle the warmth at night.

Then, it was the comforter.  We had a down comforter for several years and decided maybe it was time to trade it in for a lighter version.

All of the tossing and turning was really bothering my back, so my doctor recommended sleeping with a pillow between my knees (which by the way is NOT what you want when you are hot and tossing and turning).  This restlessness and back discomfort also led my husband and me to suspect that it was time for a new mattress.  Goodbye to my favorite life-changing mattress!

The new mattress did not seem to fix the problem, in fact, I was having even more difficulty sleeping. Perhaps it was time for a new pillow.  Farewell special pillow of my past! Welcome to the long line of new pillows on my bed (or tryouts as I liked to call them).

As I finally settled into my new mattress, pillow, and bedding; I realized that the morning light was really starting to bother me and waking me up well before I was ready (especially after not sleeping well at night), so a sleep mask was added to my nightly routine.

Maybe because I always slept well and didn't notice, but I now also realized my husband snored.  Not all the time, not loudly; but enough to be irritating.  A gentle nudge was usually enough to stop him, but I can tell you when I was tossing and turning the snoring didn't seem all that mild and my nudge wasn't always so gentle.  Ear plugs?  Separate beds?  Different rooms? What's next?

As all of these changes piled up, it became a bit ridiculous.  My bedside had become cluttered with the detritus of my sleep issues- sleep mask, socks (sometimes need them, sometimes can't stand them), water (all that sweating is dehydrating), Kindle for middle of night reading, phone for when the Kindle doesn't work, extra blanket (you never know), various types of sleepwear (depending on what my personal thermostat was), extra pillows, ice packs, hot packs, fan, and the inevitable tangle of sheets and blankets. I finally had to accept--

It's not you, my sweet bed, it's me.  And a nasty case of declining estrogen.  Yikes, it appears I am in the PERIMENOPAUSAL ZONE!!

"Perimenopause is the time period when the ovaries begin to decline in function and continues until menopause has been reached."

Your mother may have referred to this time as "the change of life". This phase covers an undetermined amount of time that starts and ends at its choosing. It could last as long as ten years.  TEN YEARS!!  A few of its delightful symptoms include hot flashes, night sweats, disrupted sleep, weight gain, and mood changes. I won't even mention the other very specific things that happen to a woman's body :-0!! Doesn't that sound like fun?  I can tell you that my mood definitely changes when those things are happening to me!

While it is my desire to take all of this in stride, it is not always easy.  I can change the kind of clothing I wear to accommodate my ever-changing temperature, I can keep the thermostat at a refrigerator setting, I can happily switch to wearing pants with adjustable waistbands if I have to, but to give up a good night's sleep is almost too much to ask! I know women are strong and that's why we are given the gift of childbearing, but it would seem to me that the additional but related "gifts" of the starting and stopping of menstruation and ALL that goes along with it are just too much.  Insomnia too?  There must be a mistake! Surely God didn't intend for us to suffer all of these indignities in addition to normal aging issues?? Gravity and wrinkles would have been enough!  Clearly, some of these ailments should have been directed to the men, right? Why should us women have ALL of the fun?

The best way to get through all of this is with the support and humor of your girlfriends.  They understand (or they will soon understand) why you wear a tank top in the middle of winter and accept that your house is the temperature of an ice box.  They will pretend not to notice when your midsection swells and will be with you as you shop for looser, floaty styles. They will nod knowingly when you complain about not sleeping and will kindly offer you tips on undereye concealer.  Your girlfriends will tell you the things you hate to ask your doctor about, but really, really need to know.  They will be with you as you laugh and cry (and sometimes pee) with greater frequency, sometimes in the same minute. Your girlfriends will be the ones to share tips on what herb to try, or what medicine to avoid.  They will clue you in on what things helped them or what made it worse. We will all get through it together somehow- maybe just a little sweatier, crabbier, and sleepier than we once were.

 My advice to the men in our lives-- read up on what to expect, be understanding and supportive, try to do what we say,  don't dare change the thermostat, stay away from our chocolate, and whatever you do, don't cross us! All of that not sleeping makes us a little bit crazy :-).

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