Ageing and Sleeping

Table of Contents

To Age and not to sleep

Ah, the eternal quest for a good night’s sleep after hitting the fabulous 5-0. It’s like trying to wrestle a stubborn toddler into bed, only this time, the toddler is our elusive slumber. And let me tell you, the term “battling” is not just a dramatic touch – it’s a full-on nightly skirmish. Ahhh- insomnia!

Now, some lucky souls can just sip on a cozy cup of tea and drift off into dreamland. Others, well, they’re convinced a shot of whisky is the magical potion to kick insomnia to the curb. Valerian drops are also in the sleep arsenal – apparently, they’re the sleep fairy’s secret weapon.

 

black and white photo of blurred woman

Photo by Callie Gibson on Unsplash

But as women over 50, of perimenopause and menopause? Oh boy, catching those precious ZZZs feels like trying to catch a greased pig at a county fair – slippery and frustrating as heck.

I’ve thrown everything at the sleep struggle – teas, melatonin, and enough Valerian drops to make a wizard jealous. Some nights, it’s a win; others, my bed feels like a deserted island in the insomnia sea.

In conversations with numerous women aged 50 and above, a recurring topic is the challenge of sleep disturbances during perimenopause and menopause. The link between hormones and sleep difficulties seems undeniable. I don’t see any great solutions for insomnia and sleep problems as of yet.

The subject of sleeping or insomnia has almost become a hobby. I have done endless research, and sometimes, I find something fantastic that will only last a short time. And I keep on researching. So, buckle up, my sleep-deprived comrades, and join me on this wild journey to beat insomnia and uncover the secrets of the ultimate post-50 slumber. 🌙💤

The subject of sleeping has almost become a hobby. I have done endless research, and sometimes I find something fantastic that will only last a short time. And I keep on researching. I have read many books and followed all sorts of strange instructions.

What is Insomnia?

Insomnia is the VIP party crasher of sleep disorders. It’s the sneaky culprit that photobombs your daily activities and leaves you yawning like you just binge-watched a whole season of boring documentaries. Twist, twirl, tally sheep, rise, recline, meditate – and yet, the elusive sandman remains a no-show. What’s a poor, sleep-deprived soul to do?

  • Insomnia is a sleep disorder with acute and chronic forms, which can be linked to other conditions.

  • Treating insomnia involves addressing related disorders like sleep apnea, identifying symptoms & risk factors, using Cognitive Behavior Therapy or medications, and making lifestyle changes.

  • Preventing insomnia requires following a consistent schedule & managing stress through relaxation techniques & counseling.

woman lying on table top, hair hanging down

@pimchu.jpg Unsplash

Understanding Insomnia:

What It Is and How It Affects You

Sleep disorders, particularly insomnia, can have severe repercussions for life. I wake up several times during the night. Sometimes, I can go back to sleep and feel relaxed in the morning; other times, I feel like a truck ran over me.

There are several types of insomnia: short-term insomnia (acute) and long-term (chronic).

Acute vs. Chronic Insomnia

Acute sleep deprivation occurs for only several days or weeks due to stress and events like trauma. In contrast to acute insomnia, chronic sleeplessness can remain in place for up to one month or more. Medical issues could cause it.

woman sleeping, black and white photo, only her face an arm is visible and part of bed

Photo by Kinga Howard on Unsplash

Are you suffering from any of these insomnia symptoms?

  • Foggy brain.

  • Depression.

  • Anxiety.

  • Stress.

  • Inability to make decisions.

  • Feeling nervous and reacting too quickly.

  • Lack of focus.

  • Memory loss.

  • Lack of motivation.

  • Negative thoughts.

Mental health issues worsen these insomnia symptoms, so it’s essential to detect the warning signs to minimize the risks of insomnia and avoid chronic insomnia.

Symptoms of Insomnia

The effects of chronic insomnia can significantly impair one’s quality of life. Engaging in work that demands full attention becomes challenging, especially when accompanied by a persistent foggy brain.

Insomnia can cause you to isolate from your friends and family and cause irritability, stress, or anxiety disorders, which can wreak havoc on your daily life too. When fatigue is added to the mix, your concentration plummets, productivity diminishes, and emotions become complicated.

Insomnia symptoms make you mentally and physically vulnerable.

What is insomnia caused by?

Stress, anxiety, an uncomfortable sleeping environment, drinking alcohol or caffeine before going to bed, and specific mental health conditions, physical health, menopause conditions, and physical issues are all causes of insomnia.

desperate woman at bus stop, night photo,

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Diagnosing Insomnia: The Process and Tools Used

Medical professionals must conduct a complete and thorough assessment to diagnose insomnia. This includes a sleep history and evaluation of the patient’s history and physical state to look for underlying causes that may contribute to insomnia and sleep deprivation.

Assessing one’s sleeping patterns via specific sleep lab-based research can help discover potential disturbances that lead to sleeplessness. Doctors will have sufficient data concerning the individual’s condition before offering treatment solutions. This comprehensive approach involves medical information and detailed analysis through various sleep study studies or labs.

Personal Diagnostic Experience

I went to my doctor for insomnia and, I was tested for Apnea when I lived in Miami. I had to sleep- or try to sleep at the hospital, where they put a whole bunch of wires on my head and body. It wasn’t easy to sleep in those medical conditions. I found the entire process very confusing and uncomfortable, but we found out that I do not have Apnea.

I went to a Portuguese sleep doctor who also put a whole bunch of wires on my head and body, but he sent me home to sleep- or try to sleep! The conclusion? The doctor told me that there was nothing physically wrong with me and no real cause for my sever insomnia.

I told both doctors that insomnia started with menopause. The American doctor did not address the menopause and was just happy that I did not have Apnea, and the Portuguese doctors gave me some good ideas- more later! 🙂

The connection between menopause and insomnia was not discussed. Note my frustration, please!

anthony-tran-i-ePv9Dxg7U-unsplash

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Medical History and Physical Exam

Integrating a comprehensive medical history and a thorough physical examination is crucial for professionals to diagnose and treat insomnia’ causes.

Don’t forget to take your list of symptoms and complaints when you are at the doctor’s office. Your input is crucial to the outcome! You can help the doctor on your path to curing insomnia disorder and creating new sleeping habits..

Doctors can formulate more precise treatment plans for those grappling with this disorder. This combined approach helps reach better conclusions for efficiently addressing insomnia-diagnosed sleep-related issues.

Sleep Studies and Sleep Labs

Sleep studies, or polysomnography as they are sometimes called, examine an individual’s sleep patterns and identify any abnormalities that may cause insomnia. The data gathered from these investigations can guide medical professionals toward finding appropriate treatments.

woman wearing a grey t shirt, sleeping with her tummy down, hair spread out

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash

My Brain Training Lab Work

While in Miami, I regularly attended a successful brain training clinic for insomnia treatment. Over two months, I underwent interviews with the doctor, who then applied numerous wires to my head. The machine he operated generated various noises while recording my brain waves.

I had to stay calm and relax during certain noises, while I had to control my thoughts and practice deep breathing for others. Despite the challenging moments due to irritating noises, it helped me learn self-control in difficult situations. It did not cure my sleeping disorders.

Brain training alleviated my pre-sleep anxiety. Before, I feared sleepless nights, often leading to poor-quality sleep and insomnia.

Not-sleeping
Photo by Marguerite Beaty Self-portrait: Sleepless in Portugal

Treating Insomnia: Various Approaches

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a great option for treating people suffering from chronic insomnia, tackling anxiety, and improving sleep habits. Making lifestyle changes and adopting good sleep hygiene practices has proven effective in reducing various sleep issues, including insomnia symptoms, and enhancing overall sleep quality.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Insomnia

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia, or DBT-I, is an approach to addressing sleep issues by modifying thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors associated with insomnia. This therapy employs stimulus control, sleep limitation, and relaxation exercises to restore standard sleep patterns.

Research has proven that CBT-I can improve a person’s quality of restful sleep and minimize their suffering from insomnia.

Medications for Insomnia

Certain medications, like non-benzodiazepine receptor agonists, benzodiazepine receptor agonists, or tricyclic antidepressants, may offer relief for sleep issues but may have serious side effects on some people. Therefore, caution is advised when considering medication options for your insomnia.

Before tying the “heavy duty” meds, try to change your sleep schedule, take a nap in the afternoon if you didn’t get enough sleep, and try calming teas and meditation. Find other things to help your sleep disorder or chronic insomnia. Keep researching! You are your best advocate.

Lifestyle Changes and Sleep Hygiene

Establishing healthy sleep patterns, learning how much sleep you need, and creating new habits reduce the risk of insomnia and promote quality rest. Consistent bedtime routines, a conducive sleep environment, and minimizing stress or anxiety before bedtime through lifestyle modifications can help your sleep cycle and lead to peaceful nights. So, no caffeine in the evenings!

*Note: I believe these are good, helpful practices, but I still have much more work and research to do to deal with my chronic insomnia. Doctors say that insomnia and other sleep disorders can lead to isolation, but dealing with and trying to cure insomnia can also make you feel very isolated. I found myself going home at 9:00 pm to start my two-hour sleep hygiene- that meant I had a limited social life. UGH! What to do? But my acute insomnia was really annoying!

woman watching something on computer, she is on a sofa and is wearing a hat
Photo by Marguerite Beaty

Alternative and Complementary Treatments for Insomnia

Consult your doctor before trying alternative medications or herbs, as they may not mix well with prescribed medications. Be attentive to any risk factors. For example, a few holistic practitioners suggested that I take Ashwagandha for insomnia, but my oncologist suggested I stay away from it due to the type of breast cancer I had. Some studies (not FDA) state that it inhibits tumors- so all this is to suggest that you work closely with your doctor.

Personalize your options and remain flexible. Exploring new alternatives if something ceases to be effective or if you feel sleepy in the mornings- keep testing things out.

You need to tweak your You need to tweak your sleep medicine all the time- until you find something that works well.

Do your best to maintain your good sense of humor while dealing with all this. 🙂

hand holding a mug and steam coming out of it

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

Alternative ideas and medication for insomnia

Melatonin is a hormone. It’s not a sleeping pill, but it does aid in sleeping because it has a calming effect and helps you relax. You must know when to take it and your ideal dosage for this to work.

Remember the Portuguese doctor I mentioned? He recommended liquid melatonin as an alternative to my sleeping pill. Initially, I took both but gradually increased the melatonin drops while reducing the medication. It worked, allowing me to sleep without the aid for several nights. Nowadays, I typically rely on melatonin alone for three or four nights a week. (notice that I wrote three nights a week!)

Melatonin is not for everyone. Some people have side effects like dizziness or daytime sleepiness, so if that is your case, you will need to change your dose or try something else.

You may do well on liquid melatonin but not with the pill – I do well with the liquid and not the pill. There are so many things to try out to fix my sleeping difficulties.

Valerian tea or capsules: Valerian, taken as tea three hours before bedtime and then one pill at bedtime, is effective for calming and can serve as a sleep aid for some. You will need to test your perfect dosage. The tea is relaxing. Drink a few cups a day and don’t make it too strong.

GABA, or Gamma-aminobutyric acid, (a neurotransmitter) promotes relaxation. The doctor at the brain training lab incorporated GABA pills into my training program after a month, and they worked wonders for my sleep. I alternate the GABA with Melatonin nowadays.

It’s worth noting that GABA may have side effects for some individuals, so it’s crucial to test and consult with your doctor before taking supplements.

Aromatherapy: Try aromatherapy by placing a few drops of lavender on your chest before sleep. If you have difficulty falling asleep, this will help you relax. Alternatively, create a lavender infusion for a calming atmosphere in the room. Experiment with different essential oils. For example, I love to mix Neroli and Lavender in my evening infusion.

Buy high-grade essential oils so that you can use them for inhaling and putting them on your skin.

Essential oils are wonderful for relaxing, and there are no side effects. Get an infuser and let he aromas into your bedroom!

CBD oil: Please be attentive because some countries do not allow CBD! This is not for everyone, but I have spoken to many people who have had great success with CBD oil. If you are going to try it, I suggest that you work closely with your doctor so that you buy the correct oil and take proper doses.

CBD works by reducing your anxiety and helping you relax, so I believe that it’s essential to know when to take it.

*Note: I recently found out that you can do a genetic test to find out which CBD oil is best for you. The test is being done in Brazil, and I don’t know if they do it elsewhere. I am researching! If you know something about this please let me know below in the comments of this article.

Supplements

My trainer, Eduardo Schultz, told me of a combination that is working out for me at this time. 😀

Inositol, Glycine, and Magnesium. I take those three supplements with ten drops of Melatonin. Read more about the combination of the three supplements here: Sleeping better.

Acupuncture: If you live in an area with a good acupuncturist, try it! I had a great one when I lived in Elvas, Portugal, and she helped me with relaxation and back issues. My sleep quality got a lot better. When I lived in São Paulo, I went to a fabulous one who really knew how to work his needles, and I was actually sleeping well. Sorry- I don’t have his info.

HT or hormone therapy can help menopausal women. I was not a candidate for this due to having had breast cancer.

Currently, I’m experimenting with a Portuguese herbal tea made from several herbs. I drink one cup at 3:00 pm and a second cup at 6:00 pm, sipping it slowly – every 10 minutes. It’s a lovely ritual, but it hasn’t done anything for me yet.

It all seems daunting. I still haven’t found a good solution for sleepless nights.

Exercises: At least 30 minutes a day of a fast (or fastish) body movement will help you tremendously! I do ten thousand steps a day, and I believe that it helps me a lot because when I am not able to do this, I feel out of sorts. That is my “non-scientific” reason for exercising. 🙂

person sleeping on yellow leaves, hat covering face

Photo by Abbas Tehrani on Unsplash

Relaxation Techniques for Sleep disorders

Music: Listen to soothing music for ten or twenty minutes before sleeping.

Relaxation or meditation with deep breathing exercises.

Listen to a story: I love books on tape and listen to stories or meditations.

Helpful APPS + Sites to help you fall asleep

Calm

Headspace

White Noise Light

Sleep Sounds (Google)

Stellar Sleep

Forbes’ list of sleep apps

Meditative Mind on Youtube

This article was revised and rewritten in January 2024

Resources:

NIH Inositol

Inositol and Sleep: Does it really help?

NIH Glycine

Updated February 1, 2024

Main picture: Photo by Alexandra Gorn on Unsplash

Marguerite Beaty, Blogger, Photographer & Artist

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