- Tania Elfersy
Why can’t you sleep? Insomnia, perimenopause and menopause.
It’s 3am. You’re awake and getting somewhat desperate.
You wonder: since exhaustion has become your new normal, why on earth won’t your body let you sleep? Why can't you shake the insomnia?
There’s only one answer.
Your body wants you awake.
Awake physically and emotionally, especially during perimenopause and menopause.
~ PHYSICALLY ~
Here's a fact about sleep that if it's new to you, might just blow your mind:
Until a few centuries ago, we wouldn't define insomnia as we do today, because hundreds of years ago humans used to sleep in two distinct chunks of time.
In his book, At Day's Close: Night in Times Past, historian Roger Ekirch shines light on the transformation of sleep patterns through the ages. Drawing on evidence found in literature, diaries, court records and medical books, Ekrich reveals that the dominance of an uninterrupted night’s sleep is a relatively modern phenomenon.
In times gone by, people would go to sleep a few hours after dusk and wake up approximately four hours later. This was their first sleep. During the waking period of a few hours that followed, people prayed, meditated, got cosy with a bedfellow, and even socialized with their neighbours. People would then enter a second sleep of another four hours or so, bringing them to wake at dawn.
In the West, long before we were kept awake by our digital devices, the 17th century development of better lighting in city streets and in homes, plus the growing popularity of late night socializing in public houses and coffee shops, encouraged people to go to bed later, thus drawing them away from a two-part sleeping pattern, which appears more in tune with our natural state.
Since we’ve trained our bodies to operate with a more “efficient” single sleep, it’s perhaps no surprise that during the sensitive time of perimenopause and menopause, when our bodies’ innate wisdom bubbles to the surface, our bodies might attempt to return to our natural sleeping rhythms. And we, unaware of the history of sleep, will call it insomnia!
As Prof. Russell Foster, Chair of Circadian Neuroscience at Oxford, observed in the BBC News Magazine, “Many people wake up at night and panic. I tell them that what they are experiencing is a throw-back to the bi-modal sleep pattern.”
Sleep psychologist Gregg Jacobs believes that the waking period between first and second sleep played an important role in maintaining our emotional well-being. Some quiet time in the early hours forced people into rest and relaxation, something that we spend little time doing today.
If you're suffering from insomnia and your midlife sleep patterns currently include a waking period, your body might be trying to help you through perimenopause and menopause by returning to its default settings. But default settings don’t have to remain our modus operandi when it comes to sleep, as past centuries have shown. Be patient with your body and it will find the right rhythm for you.
~ EMOTIONALLY ~
If your body has something to tell you, night time – when you’re not stuck in front of a screen, behind a wheel, in a business meeting, with a glass of wine in hand, or savoring a delicacy from your fridge – appears to be a perfect time to communicate with you.
Even if your body is ignoring its default bi-modal sleep patterns, it may be interested in waking you up to get your attention.
No matter how you find yourself waking up at night – in a sweat, in panic, with your mind racing – the symptoms you're experiencing are messages.
Your body is using what it can to communicate with you. During perimenopause and menopause, just like when you were a teenager and when women are pregnant or postpartum, your body temperature rises and it becomes easier for your body to create a sweat to get your attention.
If you spend your days getting stressed from your thinking about work, relationships, money, your health and whatever else seems to occupy your mind, your body will be able to convert those low feelings that accompany your thinking in the day, into a night sweat or full-blown panic attack at night. It’s a much louder message and it’s more difficult to ignore.
Your body isn’t creating these uncomfortable messages to wake you up at night and make you feel bad. Your body is telling you that your thinking that creates your stress makes you feel bad.
In the dark of night, your body wants you to see something that you’re ignoring in the light of day.
Your body is eager to tell you that the stress you create by taking your thinking about any situation seriously, is doing you no favors. Your body wants to use this sensitive time of midlife change to wake you up.
Your body is telling you that at midlife it is part of the design that we look within. It wants you to recognize that no situation can be stressful but for our thinking about it, and that now is the perfect time to return to your natural state of good health and wellbeing.
You may not need two chunks of sleep to get there, but maybe your body will decide that temporarily it’s going to operate that way. That is, until you surrender to the wisdom within and listen to what your body is telling you. Then, as I've seen with the women I work with, calm will prevail, and you’ll be able to sleep again.
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