My gynecologist’s voice sounded petulantly condescending as she conceded, “I’ll fill the prescription for you this time, but you must discuss your sleep disorder with your primary care physician.”
“Sleep disorder” sounds positively schizophrenic. How can my condition rate the “disorder” classification when nigh on 95% of my similarly menopause-challenged friends suffer from the same malady? Oh sleep! Who would have thought that I’d view this undervalued cycle as the Holy Grail?
As I wept and worried my way through what should have been a smooth and happy summer, I realized after months of wide-awake nights that sleep deprivation played a significant role in my fragility. I gained new respect for forced sleeplessness as a torture device where before I’d thought, “Well, at least it doesn’t hurt.” And of course, it doesn’t, but fears and burdens grow and glower in the absence of a good night’s rest.
This was yet another zinger launched by diminishing estrogen. It seems unfair that wrapping up my biological usefulness as a reproductive organism carries so many residual penalties. Goodbye to babies, juicy sexiness and supple skin. Hello anxiety, low self-esteem and perennial fatigue. While I know that some of these losses are beyond salvage, there are means to tackle others.
I started with the gynecologist in my search for answers. Her suggestions - routine bedtimes, bedtime routines, no TV at bedtime - made sense, but simply weren’t going to happen. I accepted the wisdom of her offerings, but countered with one of my own - Ambien.
I’d heard raves about the sleep-inducing properties of this tiny miracle and hoped it would work for me. With a supercilious raising of eyebrows and steepling of fingertips, the doctor agreed to submit the prescription, but cautioned, “Take it only twice a week to avoid addiction.” Rats! What to do about the other days?
I have always been a Nyquil fan, even before the onset of menopause. What a divine giving-over - to lie cozy beneath the blankets, cocooned deaf and snuffly in my sneezy world, awaiting the comforting tingle in my fingers that presaged Nyquil’s transport to peaceful sleep. I saw the dangers in my appreciation of the licorice elixir, however, and never allowed myself a swig unless a scratchy throat or mild congestion heralded a dawning cold. “Yes! I’m getting sick! Bring on the Nyquil!” Friends and coworkers laughed, but my enthusiasm did not go unheeded. I’ve noticed a new anticipation in those around me upon experiencing the onset of sniffles. I know I’ve played a role in boosting Nyquil sales.
So I’m covered two nights a week and on sick days, but this is far from sufficient. As an experienced nurse practitioner, my sister-in-law Deb was able to extend yet another avenue - Valerian, an herbal remedy as old as witches. An odd reference perhaps, but Dave and I saw samples of the plant itself in an exhibit at the Salem Witch Museum. It’s a medicinal herb used by ancient healers.
I had high hopes for Valerian and it does seem to work when my mind is at rest, if I go to bed at a decent hour, and if I allow for a little peaceful reading time - thus, only on rare occasions. Dave, on the other hand, who will never experience menopause and has no idea what long-term sleeplessness is, takes one Valerian and is gone. How I envy his peaceful snores.
There is no tidy resolution to this tirade. I sit at night, propped against my pillows, eyeing that alluring green bottle. Does tomorrow appear demanding enough to warrant the ease of Ambien? I am reminded of “Seinfeld’s” Elaine, evaluating potential sex partners as “sponge-worthy” or not. Sooooo, Wednesday, are you Ambien-able?