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Reframing Sleep: The Mindset Shift to Prioritise Rest in Menopause

by | Aug 15, 2023 | Menopause, Women's Health

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In our youth, we often find ourselves sacrificing sleep for various reasons. We eagerly trade those precious hours of rest for parties, work commitments, and ambitious projects. However, our perspective shifts as we enter the perimenopause phase and approach our 50s. We realise that sleep is not an expendable commodity but a fundamental necessity for our well-being.

There is plenty of information about the practicalities of getting good sleep. This blog is not about that. This blog is about the mindset shift that needs to happen first.

The Sacrifices of Our Youth

In my younger years, I often believed that sacrificing sleep was a necessary trade-off to fulfil my ambitions and desires. The allure of a vibrant social life, my career demands, and my passion projects mostly overshadowed the importance of rest. Sometimes, I pushed myself relentlessly, believing I was invincible, and that sleep was merely an obstacle to my goals. A younger Mish says, “Plenty of time for sleeping when you’re dead.” Or, other times, I was just happy to make a mindless trade-off like binging Netflix, knowing that a catch-up sleep-in would not be an option.

However, this belief no longer resonates with me.

The Awakening: Prioritising Sleep

Simultaneously having Long COVID while navigating the hormonal fluctuations of perimenopause was a wake-up call for me to re-value and re-prioritise quality sleep. Hormonal fluctuations, evening wine time, night sweats, and a busy brain have made it increasingly difficult to achieve a restful and full night’s sleep. I know that a lack of sleep affects my physical health, but it also radically affects my mental and emotional well-being.

Making the Shift

Yes, I have read the articles and understand the research on the importance of sleep, but old habits and belief systems take time to change. Realising that sleep was the key to unlocking my overall well-being did not happen overnight, pardon the pun. It took me time to realise what chronic exhaustion looked like, as I have in the past, worn this as a badge of honour. Proof that I was working hard. Achieving.

It took an even longer time to understand subtle exhaustion. Subtle exhaustion combines all your little decisions that steal valuable sleep time.

A good night’s sleep contributes to enhanced cognitive function, improved memory, and increased productivity. Also, our moods stabilise, it reduces stress and anxiety. Whereas, subtle exhaustion can lurk in the shadows, not being fully acknowledged. This is what truly hinders our ability to manage health conditions or the challenges of perimenopause.

Embracing Self-Care and Well-being

If you, like me, are transitioning to menopause, prioritising sleep is the foundation. If we understand that to age well means, we must put ourselves and our health first. This shift in mindset to prioritising sleep can pave the way for a broader commitment to self-care and well-being.

Self-care is not selfish but necessary. We must allow ourselves time for rejuvenation, relaxation, and engaging in activities that bring us joy. By prioritising sleep, we nourish our bodies, minds, and spirits, enabling us to show up as our best selves in all aspects of life.

Here are some behavioural changes that I have adopted to prioritise my sleep.

(Note: I need to acknowledge my privilege of no longer having to deal with children daily and that I work from home – so if some of these things don’t resonate with you, that’s ok!)

1. It’s ok to leave the party early! Research has strongly shown the correlation between going to bed at the same time each night and improved sleep. Even a tiny deviation impacts your sleep. It is all to do with your circadian rhythms and the body’s release of melatonin. This one was a classic sleep stealer for me. Whether it was not being diligent at home or staying out late for events. I never prioritised my regular bedtime. This has been a game-changer for me. And I have no guilt to slip away from a party without saying goodbye, or explaining to the host that my sleep is really important at this time.

2. Not setting the alarm. This can be very confronting, and not everyone can do this due to work/life commitments. But for me, the benefits have been significant in the sleep department. And I find my body naturally wakes when it has had enough quality sleep – I don’t sleep all day! Working from home does allow some flexibility in the mornings (no commute to work!).

I used to set my alarm twice weekly to do rooftop yoga at dawn. Something I really loved and a ritual that I have had for years – waking up early to exercise. However, I had to acknowledge that the jarring of the alarm and stealing precious sleep did not balance the benefits of waking up early to exercise. I now explore exercise at different times of the day. Note: If I do exercise in the evening, it is usually walking, yoga or gentle movements to keep cortisol down.

3. Coffee and alcohol – overpromising and underdelivering.This has been my life routine for decades – good coffee in the morning to get me revved up and ready to go to cold white wine in the evenings to signify “knockoff.” I am now living completely alcohol-free (and if you want to know more about that, you can read here for the why and here for the how) and nearly coffee free.

Now, I am not saying you must go that extreme – as I know how bloody hard alcohol can be to give up. But perhaps you could instigate some minor changes. For example – on weekdays – have a can of Adapt (which really does chill you out with the added adaptogens) in the evening instead of wine – pour it into your usual wine glass to keep all the other parts of the habit the same.

The reality is that your menopausal liver cannot process the alcohol as it once did. It is quite likely that your hangovers are worse, and your sleep is being disrupted.

Have you thought about your coffee consumption? This habit may serve you differently than it once did. I do have coffee – however, it is never on an empty tummy. I have herb tea in the morning, and if I feel like a coffee, it is after my breakfast / or late morning. Even when I go to a café for breakfast, I order my coffee afterwards. This is because your cortisol is naturally high in the morning, and although cortisol generally gets a bad rap – it serves a purpose drinking coffee, instead of relying on your natural cortisol to get you started for the day, diminishes the cortisol production (see research listed below). Iron-rich food can also help metabolise coffee.

Coffee is not bad, but perhaps how we are conditioned to drink it needs questioning.

4. The To-Do List. I love and live by a to-do list. However, my attitude to it has changed. I often ask myself, “Will someone die if it is not done?”. And usually, that sorts out the priorities. For me, it is deeply tied to not disappointing people. Being unwell for an extended period means that I have had to say no, pull out of events at the last minute and not fulfilled things I had promised to do. And to my knowledge, no one has died. In fact, when I have explained why, there is precisely the kind of empathy I would show another person. So yes, I still work with a To-Do list, but the level of forgiveness for not getting everything ticked off has grown exponentially.

5. Trading Money for Time. I have been brought up with some pretty strong values around money.

They look like this:

  1. Don’t waste it.
  2. Get your money’s worth (i.e., only bargains count)
  3. Fools and their money are soon parted. So don’t be a fool.

I have lived in times where I could account for every dollar, as I was a single mother with 2 young children to look after. And I do understand the stress of not having enough money. In fact, very few people have never experienced money worries.

However, you can choose to stress over your financial decisions – Did I waste money? Did I get a bargain? Did I spend too much? Or, as I try to practice, I now choose not to stress over them. Sometimes I absolutely get a bargain (Yah!), and sometimes I pay for someone else – so it costs me twice as much (Yah!). Money has energy, and I refuse to have it drain me. This practice has meant that I pay to get help. I have a Virtual Assistant and others who help me in my business. I also enjoy giving – my time, skills and money to others. I believe that this attitude of generosity means that I always receive.

Look at the things that drain, stress, and keep you awake at night and pay someone else to do these things for you. The investment is always worth it. You don’t have to do everything.

Prioritising Sleep, Prioritising How We Want to Age

The transition into menopause marks a significant turning point in a woman’s life. A gateway of sorts. The crossover to thinking seriously about how we want to age. By prioritising sleep, we lay a solid foundation for our physical, mental, and emotional health.

It took time for me to shift my mindset and understand the actual value of sleep. I also acknowledge that prioritising sleep and self-care is a privilege that not everyone may have the same access to. We must do the best we can with the resources we have, recognising that even small steps can make a meaningful difference.

Getting better sleep starts with a mind-attitude shift about priorities.

And now, for me, sleep always wins.

References:

Chaput JP, Dutil C, Featherstone R, Ross R, Giangregorio L, Saunders TJ, Janssen I, Poitras VJ, Kho ME, Ross-White A, Zankar S, Carrier J. Sleep timing, sleep consistency, and health in adults: a systematic review. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2020 Oct;45(10 (Suppl. 2)):S232-S247. doi: 10.1139/apnm-2020-0032. PMID: 33054339.

Lovallo WR, Whitsett TL, al’Absi M, Sung BH, Vincent AS, Wilson MF. Caffeine stimulation of cortisol secretion across the waking hours in relation to caffeine intake levels. Psychosom Med. 2005 Sep-Oct;67(5):734-9. doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000181270.20036.06. PMID: 16204431; PMCID: PMC2257922.

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