Sleep…at Night, Thank you very much!

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Insomnia is one of those problems I had all of two times in my life…until The change came a’knockin’ on my door. Now, five years and counting into Perimenopause, I count myself lucky to wake only once or twice a night. Nights without sweats and chills, racing thoughts and anxiety attacks, and what I swear must be rivers of pee are a memory, a distant one at that.

Like so many other women my age, I don’t have the luxury of rearranging my life to accommodate all this uproar, at least not enough to make sleeplessness and poor sleep okay. Perimenopause or not, work and family still depend on me to perform at least reasonably well…without a huge tantrum, which isn’t one of those skills I got around to acquiring when I was younger and more resilient.

Since Menopause refuses to set a date and stick to it, I decided I’d best develop a few tools for getting the sleep I need to function.

Ways to kick insomnia during the Perimenopausal (or PMS or Menopausal) years:

  • Develop a bedtime routine…and stick to it.
  • Take time for self care.
  • Pick a few bedtime rituals you do only just before sleep at night.
  • Calm Racing Thoughts with Journaling.
  • Ease Anxiety with Breathing Practice.
  • Turn to herbs for help.
  • Pick up a good book and make the best of it.

Develop a Bedtime Routine…and stick to it.

Although I hated the idea at first, I started with one of the suggestions many sleep experts offer up straight away. Make a bed time routine, and stick to it come Hell or high water. My bedtime routine isn’t as rigid as they say it ought to be, but it works. I take half an hour or so to wind down and get ready for bed. I include a few rituals, like cleaning my specs and filling my water glass every night faithfully. I may not always do everything in the same order, but the rituals help get my mind and body ready for sleep.

Make Time for Self Care.

I make time for some kind of self care, like lighting an incense for the pure enjoyment of it or massaging my hands or feet with one of my favorite lotions laced with a few essential oils of my choosing. The self care part changes from week to week, and sometimes from night to night.

Adding the extra time it takes to my bedtime routine was hard at first. I was so used to caring for everyone else that taking even ten extra minutes to do something kind for myself seemed kind of crazy. Now, I look forward to it every night. That makes getting ready for bed a secret joy rather than the torture it was becoming before I decided to kick insomnia outta my boudoir.

Save one Ritual at least Just for Bedtime.

One piece of my bedtime routine that’s rigid is my sleep timer. I downloaded a free sleep sounds sleep timer on my iphone two years ago on a lark. I was looking for one of those sleep machines, but didn’t want to spend tons of money if it didn’t help. After using the sleep sounds app, I realized I didn’t need the machine.

The app works perfectly for me. It has several sound options. I use one for night time sleep only. If I need to spend a little time unwinding, doing some journaling, or doing a breathing practice to calm my nerves before bed, I use a different sound. I switch to my sleep sound just as I’m starting to yawn and feel ready to give slumber a go. After using that particular sound so religiously for sleep only, I’ve trained my brain to aim in the direction of sleep as soon as I hear it. It’s a little like playing the same lullaby to your baby every night, and it works surprisingly well…so long as my mind’s quieted down already.

Calm Racing Thoughts with Journaling.

When my thoughts are racing, I add time for journaling into my bedtime routine. It comes after everything else, just as I get into bed. I put on quiet sounds, like the gentle rain track on my sleep timer app, and sit back in bed with a notebook and pen or my ipad to write. I write whatever words show up, even if they make so sense whatsoever. Sometimes, I pay attention to the topics that rise. Sometimes I write with abandon knowing I’ll delete the whole lot as soon as I’m finished. The key is to just get those thoughts onto paper so you don’t need to keep going over them.

Ease Anxiety with Breathing Practice.

If anxiety is driving my thoughts, I try some deep, even breathing either after or instead of journaling. Once I’ve found a comfortable position, I spend a few breaths just noticing how I’m breathing. Am I breathing high in my chest? Shallowly or fully? Fast? Slow? Thoughtfully or more like gulping in the air? Whatever my pattern is, I notice without judging or trying to change it for a few moments so I can just be in touch with my body’s rhythm of the moment.

When I’m ready, I begin to count the time it takes to breath in, then to pause, then to breath out, then to pause again. I gently adjust how I breathe so I’m taking a little more time to breathe out than in, so long as it doesn’t feel forced. This particular pattern helps my mind and body feel more calm and focused. If I don’t count, I may just focus on letting my belly rise and fall as I breathe so I’m not breathing high in my chest. This pattern is often called belly breathing and has a calming, grounding effect as well. Yoga has many good breathing practices to offer, just be sure whatever you choose is designed to help calm your system rather than invigorate it.

Turn to Herbs for Help.

For the days when journaling and breathing practice aren’t enough or the real problem is an over stimulated nervous system, I turn to herbs. Valarian is my favorite by far. I love the slightly sweet, resinous, almost stinky taste of valarian roots, particularly when tinctured. Plus, valarian’s sedative properties are a boon to my nervous system when I’m overwrought. I keep valarian tincture in the bedroom. Always.

Oats are another of my favorite nervines. In tea, oats taste of the field, freshly mown on a spring eve. They help my nervous system relax. I often combine them with skullcap to calm my mind. Skullcap has particular affinity for soothing the mind, making it a perfect herb for calming racing thoughts at the end of the day. A little motherwort rounds out the blend when anxiety or heart palpitations are part of my insomnia. Motherwort is a little bitter, but when I really need it it tastes like a big, safe, comforting hug from someone who’s been there and survived that. Sometimes, I add a little passionflower glycerite to my cup for an extra calming, sedative sweetness. Passionflower is the blossom of a South American vine that’s popular in gardens throughout much of the United States. It helps calm racing thoughts and sooth the body toward sleep regardless of age.

Make the Best of it with a Good Book.

The last trick I have for dealing with insomnia is to keep a stack of good books by your bed. I have at least one fiction and one non-fiction minimum at an arm’s reach along with a book light. When night sweats and chills or other wonderful sleep deterrents show up, particularly in the wee hours of the morning, I have something to do that doesn’t require me to get out of bed. More often than not, a page or two is all it takes to start to yawning again and the warmth of bed will help suck me back into slumber. It doesn’t always work, but at least when it doesn’t and I lay there for a couple of hours wide awake, I can enjoy my time with a good book instead of letting my mind hop on the racing thoughts crazy train again. I like to think that makes me a little less unbearable to live with the next day.

My family’s good enough to let me live with that thought in peace.

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