I hit the menopause bang on my 50th birthday. While I liked the neatness of this – it felt like a bullseye – what I didn’t like were some of the symptoms that came with it.
Although I’ve been lucky and haven’t suffered much with the menopause, what I have suffered from is insomnia.
Being someone who had never had a problem sleeping, suddenly being awake for hours in the early hours every night was a big shock. A big, stressful, knackering shock.
I had no reason to stay awake for hours in the night. I’m a self-employed freelance writer, so I’m not lying awake stressing about bullying bosses or colleagues; I have a house with no mortgage, so it’s not like I was lying awake trying to figure out how to get help to buy a house or anything like that. But at 3am, little niggles would play on a loop around and around and around, stopping me from sleeping.
As well as being someone who had never suffered from poor sleeping, I’m also someone who never goes to the doctor. I’d usually have to have bits of me literally falling off before I bothered the doctor but the sleep thing was getting me down so much, I made an appointment to see my GP.
The GP wasn’t very helpful. She blamed it on the menopause, printed off a sheet containing info on sleep hygiene and wrote me a prescription for the sleeping pill, Zopiclone, and told me not to take it every day, as Zopiclone is highly addictive.
As well as being someone who didn’t usually suffer from insomnia, and didn’t usually visit the doctor, I was also someone who was averse to taking pills, especially ones that are highly addictive. But I was desperate, so I took a sleeping pill that night and looked forward to a solid eight hours of glorious sleep, followed by waking up fully refreshed and bounding out of bed full of energy.
Insomnia remedies that didn’t work
The sleeping pill didn’t work, so I didn’t bother trying them again.
What I did try though was everything else. I read all the tips for sleeping I could find, I tried supplements such as 5-HTP and magnesium, I tried supplements especially formulated for the menopause and I tried herbal sleep remedies such as Nytol and Kalms.
They didn’t work.
Then I read a book called The Effortless Sleep Method by Sasha Stephens, which basically said to not bother with herbal remedies and supplements but just to go to bed later and get up earlier.
It may be simple, but, man, it was effective and it actually worked! For a while, at least. But then I went back to sleeping badly again, dammit.
Insomnia remedies that did work
A friend told me about a sleep restriction therapy programme called Sleepstation. Sleepstation works by restricting your sleep until you’re sleeping the whole night through. My friend said it worked for her so I thought I’d give it a go. Sleepstation is free on the NHS but you do need a referral from your GP and, as I’d already been to my GP about my insomnia, it was as easy as clicking on a link on the Sleepstation website to sign up.
The sleep restriction therapy programme was brutal. It works by limiting your time in bed so you’re tired when you’re in bed and you actually sleep. It started me off by restricting my time in bed from 2:00am to 7:30am, increasing the time by 30 minutes each week (i.e. for the second week, my timetable was 1:30am to 7:30am).
Sleepstation worked for me and you can read my review of it here.
Like most things though, if you stop doing the thing that’s helping you, you go back to your old ways and, no longer having the accountability of having to keep a sleep diary as I did during Sleepstation’s sleep restriction therapy programme, that meant I was left to choose when I went to bed and when I got up. I ended up going to bed too early and getting up too late and before long, I was sleeping badly again.
I finished the sleep restriction therapy programme over a year ago and although I do have the occasional sleepless night, on the whole my sleep is a lot better and, at the risk of jinxing myself, I would say I don’t have insomnia anymore. If I do wake up, it’s only for a few minutes and then I’m back asleep again.
How have I managed this? I set my alarm for 7am every morning, including weekends and never lie in. Okay, I do tell Alexa to shut up, roll over and go back to sleep and get up late occasionally but, on the whole, I’m up at a reasonable hour every day.
In summary: If you treat your bed as somewhere to sleep and not somewhere to laze around, your sleep should improve.
Cathy White is a freelance writer, blogger, editor, proofreader, transcriber and outreach manager, which is a long-winded way of saying she does stuff with words. Originally from London, Cathy now lives by the sea on the south coast.