Can’t sleep: how perimenopausal insomnia can destroy mental health

Woman insomnia unable to sleep

At her lowest ebb, Christie wrote a letter to her husband. ‘I’m sorry. I love you. But I can’t go on like this, I’m losing my mind’, she penned.  She didn’t give it to him, or leave it to be found. Instead, she tucked it away in her bedside drawer, unsure of the moment that she would need it but clear in her mind that it would come. “I didn’t want to die. But I was at such a low point that I couldn’t see how I could continue to live my life when exhaustion was taking over my mind.”

At this point, Christie had been unable to sleep for four months. She would spend hours pacing the floors of her home, trying everything she could think to induce sleep. She took remedies from the chemist, practiced yoga and mindfulness, exercised to the point of exhaustion during the day and even took sleeping tablets that left her feeling groggy and ‘odd’. “I don’t think anyone can really understand how torturous not being able to sleep is until you’ve experienced it yourself. I couldn’t work out what was causing it which was half of the problem and I think, in hindsight, kept me awake even more as I would run the day over and over in my mind to try and find the cause.”

“Why were the dots not joined sooner?”

What Christie hadn’t realised was that at 43 she had started to enter perimenopause, and the insomnia was a symptom. It was only after visiting her doctor repeatedly that they ran blood tests and found that her hormones were out of balance. Christie started taking HRT the next day, and found herself looking further into insomnia caused by perimenopause to understand more. “I couldn’t believe it. There were so many women, exactly like me, suffering with this every night and for so long. It made me angry – I was 43, why were the dots not joined sooner?”

Perimenopause occurs as a natural phase of a woman’s life. It’s marked by a steady decline in oestrogen levels, causing hormonal imbalance in the body. As a result, women experience a number of symptoms as their body is affected by the loss of oestrogen; typically, hot flashes and brain fog, but there are now an agreed 48 symptoms of menopause that women routinely experience either fully or in part. One of the most common and disruptive symptoms is insomnia, and according to the National Sleep Foundation, about 61% of menopausal women experience insomnia. 

“Insomnia made me so anxious I nearly crashed my car”

For many women, insomnia occurs during menopause for several reasons. Hormonal imbalance causes symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats and nocturia (the need to urinate frequently during the night). This is due to a decline in the female sex hormone, estrogen. Declining levels of estrogen can also cause sleep apnea, or snoring (you might even wake yourself up!) – but during perimenopause, many women also experience higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression. All of these can contribute to the onset and continuation of insomnia unless there is an active intent to regulate hormones and rebalance the body. 

The link with anxiety can’t be underestimated, as Rachelle discovered. At 44, she was aware that she was experiencing symptoms of perimenopause after seeing changes in her skin and hair, and had started to have regular hot flushes and episodes of brain fog. “I knew it was coming,” she says. “I laughed off the brain fog in meetings and felt I was doing okay, generally. My girlfriends would share their experiences and I felt lucky that I wasn’t having to go through a lot of the stuff they were.” But then things changed for Rachelle.

Around the same time, work had intensified as Rachelle undertook a leadership role on a new project, and stress started to creep in more than usual. “I put it down to the project. But after a while, I was feeling this weird jittery feeling so often. I would worry about simple things, even outside of work. I felt I lost my mojo, my chutzpah. It felt like I went from a confident, able woman to lying awake night after night, worrying about all sorts of stuff.”

Before long she felt unable to do her job properly, or even to do the most basic of things at home. “I had time off sick which was so unlike me. There were days I couldn’t get out bed. I was exhausted all the time, needing to nap in the day and making silly mistakes. My partner would laugh as I tried to get words out and it was all a jumble of nonsense. I nearly fell asleep driving one day and it scared me so much that I couldn’t drive for a week after.”

Shortly after, Rachelle found Glow by Hormone University’s Super Rich Magnesium Lotion and used it nightly to help her sleep better. “It took a few weeks to really take effect, but I can’t believe the difference – especially when also using Menopause SOS too, which I love as it’s helped with the anxiety. I use both alongside HRT and I finally feel back to myself, instead of the shell of the person I was. I recommend to my friends all the time.”

“I lost myself completely”

For Patty, insomnia affected her mental health in a slightly different way. Over the course of a year, Patty found herself unable to sleep. Coming from a family with a ‘get up and do’ attitude, she battled on but realised that the affect wasn’t only on her sleep, but also her weight. “I would say that my body became a complete stranger to me. Not sleeping was bad enough, but the effects from it where huge. I ballooned in just 13 months, and according to my doctor, the greatest cause of that was because I wasn’t getting enough sleep.”

Sleep is essential for the body to repair and rejuvenate itself, and a lack of quality sleep can lead to a higher risk of developing chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. But it can also contribute to weight gain and obesity. This is due to the way that insomnia affects the metabolism and increases cortisol levels in the evening and before onset of sleep. For Patty, the relationship she had with her body changed too and it gradually left her feeling low, irritable and depressed. “I stopped doing the things I loved, seeing people I love, because I was ashamed that they would see me at my largest, ever. My clothes didn’t fit any longer and I felt so disconnected from myself and gradually became more and more depressed.” Patty’s friend swooped in and took her to the doctor where she was prescribed HRT, and antidepressants. It wasn’t a quick fix, but it was a start to helping Patty reclaim her body – and her mental health. “I had lost myself completely, and it was all down to the insomnia. Thank goodness it’s better.”

Are you getting enough sleep?

As we transition through menopause, it important that we prioritize the need for adequate sleep and what we don’t often realize is that we often need even more sleep than pre-menopause. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adult generally aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night – but during menopause many women struggle to achieve this target due to the disruptive nature of insomnia and the reality is that they often need even more sleep than 9 hours. Menopausal insomnia is a pervasive issue that significantly impacts the lives of so many women in the United States. The combination of physiological and psychological factors makes it a complex challenge to navigate. The need for increased sleep during menopause is undeniable, and the inability to achieve this can have far-reaching consequences on both physical and mental health.

Have you experienced insomnia or struggled to sleep as a result of hormone imbalance during perimenopause? We’d love to hear your experiences in our Facebook Community.

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