The Menopause Diaries: Insomnia and Hot Flushes

I have never been a brilliant sleeper. Well, that’s not entirely true, I do love a good, old fashioned nap. That I can do. But sleeping at night has never been perfect mainly because I am quite a light sleeper. When I became a Mum 10 years ago, a good night’s sleep quickly evaporated. I think probably the last truly good night’s sleep has to have been before I fell pregnant in 2007. That’s not to say that I don’t get sleep. I certainly do but I also wake frequently. Most of these wakeful episodes have generally been just stirring enough to look at the clock, note what ridiculous o’clock time it is and going back to sleep. Motherhood ushered in considerably more wakeful moments due to my overly sensitive ears hearing things like cries or sighs or a snuffle. Now that Ella and Sam are older, thankfully they aren’t generally the cause of my multiple awakenings. More recently the dogs were more to blame for that!

However, in the last year, the amount of times that I wake up during the night has steadily increased and now it’s not just “Oh, it’s 2:37am, I have 5 more hours to sleep, zzzzzz!” but rather “Oh, it’s 2:37am, I have 5 more hours to sleep, WHY CAN’T I GET BACK TO SLEEP?, Oh, it’s now 4:13am, I wish I could get back to sleep!, (5:21am) Zzzzz”. I wake up between 3-7 times a night and often struggle to get back to sleep at least once or twice every night. The real problem with not being able to get back to sleep is that I lay there, not wanting to disturb my husband or the dogs and begin to ruminate about anything and everything for a few hours. Sometimes I get up and go downstairs to watch some telly or read but more often than not I will resort to my phone to suitably wear out my eyes enough to send me back to sleep.

The other night I prepared for a nighttime wakeup by bringing my iPhone headphones and a book up to bed with me. My plan was that if I woke and couldn’t get back to sleep immediately, I would pop my headphones in, go to one of my meditation apps and find a 10-15 minute sleepy meditation to listen to. Failing that I would read my book by the light of my phone torch. True to form, I woke up at 3:34am and couldn’t get back to sleep. The effort of getting my headphones seemed quite great at the time and I didn’t fancy shoving anything into my ears at that moment. Instead I reverted back to the blue light of my social media channels on my phone and scrolled myself back to sleep about 40 minutes later. Best laid plans, right?

I have pretty much accepted that I am destined for numerous waking moments each night and will frequently struggle to get back to sleep but I don’t like it. Lack of quality sleep ends up making me a bit groggy and slow in the mornings and I end up needing a power nap mid-afternoon to get me through the rest of the day. I do feel that the increase in nighttime waking and insomnia is one of the glorious symptoms of peri-menopause. I have also been experiencing more frequent episodes of hot flushes and night sweats which just adds to the wakeful times and mental stress. Would you like to know more about hot flushes? I shall educate you!

I remember my maternal grandmother talking about “hot flashes” when I was young. In America it’s a hot flash vs the UK where it is a hot flush. Either way, it’s hot and it engulfs you in a flash and makes you feel flush with warmth so call it whatever you like. Mind you, that flush of warmth is not a comforting hug that one feels from a Slanket or some hand-knitted, Hygge-inspired lounge wear. That flush is a sudden and rather intense internal whoosh that makes you instantly too hot, sweaty and uncomfortable. I have experienced the odd minor hot flush during the day but for the most part, they pop up during the night. The other night I woke up for some reason and began to feel that growing wave of heat take over my body. I pushed the duvet off and laid there marvelling that somehow I wasn’t actually glowing as I felt so hot! I was sure that if someone put a marshmallow on a stick near my body I would have provided the perfect roasting area for a classic Smore.

I now find myself wearing t-shirts while everyone else happily transitions to their Autumn wardrobe, never needing a jacket, having the air conditioning on in the car at all times with all vents pointed at me and both legs constantly out of the duvet throughout the night. I am tempted to buy one of those glorious, old fashioned handheld fans that Southern Belles in America would have used to flutter and flirt with their suitors. Perhaps I should come out with my own line of handheld fans? Glitter, rainbows, sunshine?? Gap in the market!

As frustrating as the nighttime waking, the difficulty in getting back to sleep and the joy of feeling like a human radiator is, it’s certainly not the worst thing that could be happening to me. I know that this is kind of a rite of passage that most women will have to go through. I know that women who are dealing with cancer treatment have far worse to deal with. I know that people with life-changing conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, Crohn’s Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis are challenged by a plethora of horrible symptoms and misery each and every day. I know that one day in the, hopefully, not too distant future, I will officially be Menopausal and most of these symptoms will stop. It’s not pleasant at all but it’s certainly not the worst thing I could be dealing with.

I do, however, find the dismissal of these symptoms by medical professionals as an “inevitable phase of life” that just has to be weathered, incredibly frustrating. If a man had to face 4-14 years of rather crappy symptoms as an “inevitable phase of life”, I have a feeling that suddenly a miraculous treatment for Menopausal symptoms would become widely available on the NHS. Instead, male GP’s poo-poo the symptoms, reluctantly discuss the possibility of Hormone Replacement Therapy but generally advise women to pursue some research on their own to find ways to cope. I feel that this is often due to a lack of training or education about women’s health. In the UK, women don’t regularly see a Gynaecologist unless there is a serious women’s health issue that needs pursuing. GP’s, generally, don’t have the necessary training to be able to offer proper diagnosis, treatment or solutions for the Menopause. Often, the only way to get proper support and assistance is to pursue private health care for a Menopause specialist or Gynaecologist.

It looks like I am in for several more years of interrupted sleep, radiating heat and insomnia so I will see what I can come up with to make the most of it! That handheld fan idea is sounding better and better! Let me know if you’d like one too!

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