When my children were babies, they seemed to prefer being awake to being asleep, making me question the meaning of that common phrase, “Sleep like a baby.” During many dark and frustrating nights, they fussed and I lost sleep, dreading the alarm at six in the morning.
But at least having a little one in the house seemed a solid reason to lose sleep; after all, it’s part of the price parents pay, right?
The insomnia that hit me full-force at age 49 when I entered menopause was a whole different story. My children had long since become excellent sleepers, and I knew enough to understand hormonal shifts can wreak havoc on sleep patterns during menopause.
Most nights I lay awake for a long time before falling asleep; I went to bed each night with renewed hope that I would miraculously sink into a deep and restful sleep, yet months went by as I lay awake nightly for hours, finally losing consciousness three or four hours before I needed to get up.
Napping wasn’t usually an option because of my work schedule; but when I had enough flexibility to relax in my recliner during mid-afternoon, I sometimes slept for a couple of hours, waking refreshed.
While some people seem to do quite well on limited sleep, I was not one of them. Getting about half the sleep I felt I needed to function optimally turned me into a zombie.
I knew other women in my age group who claimed the insomnia associated with menopause (along with other annoying symptoms like dry skin and hair loss) disappeared when they began hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
However, I was firmly opposed to subjecting my human body to the hormones made from horse urine in traditionally-prescribed medications. Years later, I read about how the Women’s Health Initiative Study, a federally funded program set up to monitor how menopausal women responded to conventional HRT, ceased three years before expected due to higher rates of breast cancer, stroke and blood clots for women taking Premarin™ and Prempro™.*
I just wanted to sleep, and I knew there had to be a natural remedy for insomnia that would help me. Through a combination of strategies over a period of years, I finally found myself sleeping deeply most nights.
Here’s how I managed it:
1. Bioidentical Hormone Therapy
For me, this was a temporary solution, a “fix” I could not use long-term because of a price tag beyond my budget. However, I believe taking these hormones for six months helped my body stretch toward and settle into a “new” normal; if you are suffering from hormone-related insomnia and you can afford this experiment, it may be as helpful for you as it was for me.
Synthesized using plant chemicals sourced from soy and yams, the molecular structure is identical to human sex hormones, and these substances affect the body in exactly the same way hormones your body manufactures do. Bioidentical hormones are available at pharmacies in “standard” dosages (commonly prescribed, a sort of one-size-fits-all); this is what I used. If your doctor prescribes a different formula based on your saliva test, you’ll need to get them from a compounding pharmacy.
During this six months, I also made a point of experimenting with other strategies I could incorporate at low or no-cost.
2. Make it a Dark and Quiet Night
During menopause, I was hyper-aware of noise and light as I was going to sleep. I was very sensitive to light, and an early sunrise could wake me after a short night. I began wearing a mask to block light, and ear plugs to dull sound.
3. Non-Negotiable Scheduling and Protection of Sleeping Space
You’ve heard it before, and I found it to be true: going to bed and getting up at the same time each day truly promotes good sleep. I wasn’t a television watcher, but I had always enjoyed reading in bed. I gave that up, and began to groom and regard my bed as a wonderful, peaceful and comfortable place for sleeping. Expectations can be key to great outcomes!
4. Deep Breathing
Once you’ve settled yourself in bed (perhaps with ear plugs and mask to decrease distractions), breathe deeply, fully filling the lungs and then releasing all air; breathe slowly and deeply, continuing until it feels like the most natural thing in the world. Shoot for a minimum of ten minutes, and just keep going if you’re still awake. This relaxes both body and mind, and can lead directly to sleep. It may take some time before you get the hang of allowing deep breathing to help decrease unwelcome mental activity that can keep you awake, but with practice, you’ll likely find it very effective.
My insomnia began with menopause, and by the time I had been taking bioidentical hormones for about two weeks, I was falling asleep easily about four nights out of seven within 30 to 40 minutes of getting in bed.
I only took the medication for six months, but I continue to use ear plugs and a mask. The few times I haven’t used them, it took me a little longer to fall asleep, but not having them didn’t affect the quality of my sleep. I reserve the bedroom for sleeping only, and deep breathing has become a part of my bedtime routine I can count on to make me feel relaxed and drowsy.
More than a decade later, I only have trouble falling asleep once or twice a month.
For those whose sleep issues are unrelated to hormonal changes, employing strategies two, three and four can help anyone looking for a natural remedy for insomnia. Here’s to deep and restful sleep!