If sleep comes easily to you, just keep scrolling; this post may not be for you. If sleep eludes you now, or for decades like me, stay right here and keep reading.
Jules Verne once said, “Though sleep is often called our best friend, it is a friend who often keeps us waiting.”
This so-called friend keeps me waiting regularly. She’s done so since 1997. My sleep habits changed beginning in ’97 and continue to do so today for a myriad of reasons, beginning with motherhood. The irony here is that the best sleep of my life occurred during my first pregnancy.
You know that overwhelming pregnancy exhaustion that lulls you to sleep like a baby. I should have appreciated it more.
In the summer of 1997, after years of infertility, we welcomed our first daughter. Overjoyed with the long-awaited motherhood accompanied by my youth (age 27), I coped with the sleep deprivation reasonably well. My first daughter fought sleep from the outset. In her defense, she suffered from chronic ear infections and only slept well upright. So we slept on the couch or in the recliner for a few months until my surprise second pregnancy and the return of the overwhelming exhaustion.
My second daughter arrived in the summer of 1998. Yes, she surprised us! The good news is that she slept well, really well. Still does today. I’m so jealous. However, her sister slept lightly. Still does today.
This small cross-section led me to the “very scientific” hypothesis that one is born a good sleeper or a poor sleeper. It’s genetics.
Over the next six years, two more children arrived, and my sleep continued to wane. First, just the normal night wakings, to soothe fears after nightmares to help a child to the restroom, one more glass of water.
Then, as my son, Matthew, aged and his autism presented, sleep became a real problem. He fell asleep but failed to stay asleep. When he woke, I woke. An already light sleeper, I morphed into a very light sleeper, waking at the slightest sound from anyone in the household. Eventually with medical intervention, Matthew fell asleep and stayed asleep. This change positively impacted all of us.
Once a light sleeper, always a light sleeper.
The young mothering years left me a light sleeper. Snoring, a dog barking, and a neighbor’s alarm all wake me easily to this very day.
Mothering teenagers doesn’t promote sleep. It’s hard for me to fall asleep if anyone else is awake or not home yet. With kids staying up late studying, I found something to keep myself busy. The kids needed a ride to swim practice at 4:30 am, so mom drove. Eventually, I learned to fall back asleep after taking them to practice. Then, when they drove themselves to practice, I woke up with them and stayed awake until I got the “safely arrived at practice” text. Eventually, they stay out later at athletic events or school functions.
This mom does not sleep until all the chicks are in the nest for the night.
One might think sleep improves when everyone leaves the nest, goes to college, or takes their first job. It does a bit. Yet then, the big M begins.
The big M. M-E-N-O-P-A-U-S-E.
Of all the things that rocked my sleep, perimenopause and menopause top the chart. I would take a newborn over menopause anyway. Not a newborn of my own at almost fifty-four, but at least with a newborn you get cuddles. Menopause leaves you sweaty and sleep-deprived.
No one fully prepared me for the insomnia that accompanies menopause.
Like I can fall asleep after some melatonin, but I cannot, for the life of me, stay asleep. Night sweats, wake up from a dead sleep drenched in sweat kind of night sweat. Snoring husband, you can hear him snoring from the next room kind of snoring. Failing bladder, the kind that wakes you up for emptying several times a night bladder.
Let’s speak honestly about insomnia.
Insomnia rears her head between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m. Some trigger wakes me. You name it: the bladder, the husband, the cat, the autistic teenager. I get up, go to the restroom, and then wander to the kitchen for a glass of milk, to the office to read a few emails, and to one of the empty bedrooms to try sleeping there. Eventually, I fall back asleep. Always way too close to the 6:20 alarm I set the night before. That wonderful, end-of-the-night, glorious sleep is never long enough.
Before you come at me with all your suggestions, I want them, just not yet.
I tried so many things. No phone before bedtime. No caffeine after 4 pm. Mindfulness. Deep breathing. A hot bath. Melatonin. Tylenol PM. Cold sheets. Warm Sheets. Intimacy.
Some men find intimacy relaxing and fall asleep immediately following. Like the one I have been married to for over thirty years. Unfortunately, for some of us, it has the reverse effect and leaves us wide awake. At least one of us sleeps well.
So, for my young friends who struggle with sleep, hang on; it doesn’t really get better. For my “older” friends, currently battling sleep, what works for you?
I would love to hear your suggestions. Crowdsourcing works.