Bad Dreams? I Blame Anxiety

Photo by Rodolfo Sanches Carvalho on Unsplash
Of course, sleeping in the garden might be my problem and I could simply invest in a bed.

I used to have this theory about dreaming, which was that only creative, imaginative people had them. I admit that this conclusion was drawn from the fact that the old man doesn’t dream.

As a middle-aged, menopausal woman on anti-depressants (who struggles with sleep), the only bright side to the kind of dreams I have – imagine GOT crossed with Psycho – are that as a writer, even crazy dreams offer up some wonderful ideas for content. But I can’t deny that it would be refreshing, occasionally, to have some nice, vanilla dreams. You know, the sort of dreams where I’m sipping expensive cocktails in exotic destinations or sexual dreams, with the men of my fantasies. Rather than dreams where I’m falling off cliffs or being chased by knife-wielding rapists.

Let me share the one I had last week. Interpret it as you will.

The dream began with me introducing one of my best friends to a new friend of mine, who swiftly replaced me in my BF’s affections. Unsatisfied with that, this interloper continued to torment me throughout the dream, popping up in other parts of it to enlighten me about secrets my BF had shared with her – the sort of secrets that she had never shared with me during our entire twenty-year friendship.

During this REM version of Mean Girls, I found myself back at uni in the classic dream of being late for, and not having prepared for, an exam. This time, however, I was studying for a degree in science, and not only was I late, but the only preparation I had done for it was to skim through a Year 6 book on nature.

While I was mulling over how I could make the life cycle of the amoeba relevant to a tertiary physics paper, I was also struggling to locate my seat in the massive exam hall, where thousands of candidates were waiting to take the same exam – each of whom was already in their seat and eyeballing me.

Finally, an adjudicator took pity on me. Relieved, I followed him as he directed me to my place, whereupon – and get this! – he pulled a machete from his apron and cracked open my chest to reveal my heart – which was bizarrely the first time I noticed that everyone else’s heart in the room was exposed. Even weirder, was the immediate sense of calm I felt, that finally, I was like everyone else. Hence, it was only as I shuffled about in my seat, preparing to start the exam, that I noticed that my heart was different to everyone else’s – because mine had bulging lumps in its arteries. Clots!

The finale to this horror story, was my embarrassing (somewhat deja vu) attempt to get my computer going and onto the exam program – because apparently, I was a technophobe in my dream as well as in real life. Until, fortunately, my neighbour took pity on me, setting me up in the nick of time for the start of the exam. I remember throwing him a look of gratitude as I placed my headphones on confidently as the examiner called out Start – which is when I discovered that I had no sound.

It is no secret that bad dreams and night terrors happen to anxious people, and unsurprisingly, I can relate almost every detail of that dream to current concerns about my health, work, and the fear of not living up to expectation.

But if my mind is really that bloody imaginative, why can’t I have nice dreams for a change? Why can’t I have the dream where I’m a famous author, who sells the film rights to my novel to Steven Spielberg, who then picks Meryl Streep to play my character in the book? Why can’t I dream about lunch with Meryl – where she perfects my accent, we sing Abba songs together, and she reveals all of her inner secrets to me, like the one about her best on-screen kiss?

BTW – My money’s on Robert Redford.

The Link Between Insomnia In Middle Age And The Boomerang Generation

img_6828Biologically-speaking, there is a proven link between sleep problems, peri-menopause, and menopause. It has something to do with the dying noises created by your ovaries, dreams, and looks as they wither, and a lot to do with how much you hate the person sleeping next to you.

However, my own research lists other contributing factors, such as dogs in the bed, snoring and wind issues, anxiety about any fucking noise in the house or street and the nighttime habits of the young adults living in the house.

After a prolonged period of “self-discovery”, Kurt has succumbed to one of the realities of living in a western culture – that cigarettes cost money – and has got himself a job.

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! H.a.l.l.e.l.u.j.a!

He is working in the type of music-themed bar, with its eye-blistering pink neon lights, thumping music and an entire menu dedicated to the evolution of the French fry, that you’d expect – in other words, it is the perfect fit for someone with ADHD.

However, he continues to live at home with us in AbouToDie-ville and so by the time he gets off the bus after his shift, it is often 2 or 3 am, a time of the night that correlates nicely with the first twitches of my bladder, the first dog snores, whelps and kicks and the time of the night the old man has usually reached the end of his patience and is planning my murder due to my own snoring issues.

So, the new routine has taken some adjusting to, the light sleepers that we are, still scarred by a really fun night spent at the ER with aforementioned son only last weekend – a story for another time – and the night only two days later when he nearly burnt down the house with the toaster and couldn’t stop the fire alarm.

Last night, he phoned at 2am to say that he had missed the last bus home and needed to get a cab – in other words, would we sub him until payday? It does worry me that Kurt seems to think that the money tree is paying his wages and that there is an endless supply of cash. After an argument back and forth between myself and the old man in bed (he is having his own sleep issues at the moment), we decided to put sleep ahead of good parenting and consistency and gave Kurt the go-ahead. Any parent knows how rational you are at 3am in the morning, although the old man’s new name for me of “Weak McWeak” seems a little harsh.

I have never looked good in the morning, even after a full night’s sleep. I am not one of those women that look naturally beautiful with no makeup. I have never been a morning person and I am certainly not a 3am person. Added to which, my hair is going through its own menopausal, existential crisis at the moment and so after seven hours of tossing and turning it looks like I have been electrocuted at high voltage. I resemble one of those troll dolls we used to have as children, that have probably been discontinued now for their political incorrectness to people with dry hair.

I am also currently trialing a new product for snoring (at the request of the old man), who has threatened me with divorce if I cannot find a remedy – best-case scenario – or he will finally lose control and stab me in the middle of the night in a re-enactment of the shower scene in Psycho. The product is called “Mute”, and is a small plastic contraption that looks rather like an IUD. You fit it into your nostrils and it opens them out to encourage breathing through your nose rather than your mouth. Once in position, it is fairly inconspicuous apart from the fact that your nostrils are unnaturally flared and there is a plastic ring that hangs down – in other words, you look rather like a bull and particularly unattractive, even by my nighttime standards. “Mute” is guaranteed to lessen your snoring as well as the number of times you have sex. So, a win all around.

And so, in my haste to get back to bed asap and complete the four hours of sleep I had calculated in my anxiety that I had left last night – best case scenario – it was somewhat unfortunate for the taxi driver that my deviant hair and plastic nose-ring completely slipped my mind as the lights of his cab lit up my bedroom window and I went down to pay him.

 

 

Are Separate Bedrooms The Beginning Of The End?

woman-506120_1280So the old man has finally committed to the purchase of a bed for his study. Not, as I originally suspected, for those afternoon naps we all know he has when he pretends to be working, but somewhere to migrate to in the early hours of the morning when the snoring Olympics begin, of which I, (apparently), am a contender for gold.

Part of me thinks that this could be a dangerous step for our marriage; the other part wants to dance on the ceiling with excitement at the prospect of a good nights sleep. As he has justified, sleeping in separate rooms can’t be any more dangerous to our marriage than the current lack of sleep or the dangerous level of psychotic resentment he feels towards me at 5am each morning.

The stigma that used to surround the move to separate bedrooms must be waning and is certainly no longer limited to people in middle age these days, when even young celebs like Hamish and Zoe Blake are coming out to enthuse about the benefits of a good nights sleep. Recent statistics suggest that as many as one in six couples sleep in different bedrooms. 

The old man has promised me that this won’t become a permanent move and that he will start each night in the marital bed. But I have my doubts. I think the temptation will prove too great once we both begin to reap the benefits of a solid 8hrs sleep.

His study is already beginning to resemble a man cave, with its in-built entertainment from the family Mac and the wine stores that we conceal in there from Kurt. Some fancy new bed linen will guarantee the permanent migration of The Princess each night, so it’s doubtful he will ever leave.

Not that I will miss the prods and terrifying middle-of-the-night commands to ‘ROLL OVER’; the main reason I’m throwing caution to the wind and ignoring the information that such a move might mean a loss of intimacy and connection.

Instead, I’m choosing to see this as an exciting new chapter in our relationship, forcing it to evolve into the arena practiced historically by monarchs, where I can invite him back into the matrimonial chamber when I so desire.

Obviously, never going to happen.

Anyone else made the move?

Insomnia In Middle Age: Why Old People Have Separate Rooms

The old man predicts that we will be in separate rooms soon because of my snoring, but it’s far more likely to be due to our mismatched sleep patterns. lion-1477963_1280

 

One of the major and most debilitating symptoms of Menopause is insomnia. I REALLY need my sleep – ideally a solid twelve hours to feel human – anything less than that and I’m walking on a tight rope between psychopath and White Walker.

 

Over the past few years as my sleep patterns have changed, I’ve done everything in my power to shake up my bedtime routine in an attempt to procure more sleep. I exercise during the day, avoid screen time before bedtime, have hot baths and milky drinks and have switched back to reading paper books. I’ve also dropped caffeine from my diet as well as any spicy food stuffs that might keep me awake.

 

And generally, within fifteen minutes of opening a book, my eyes begin to glaze over and I feel ready to turn off the light, spoon the Princess and roll onto my side to go to sleep, feeling ever hopeful.

 

Usually, my eyes are wide open again within minutes.

 

There are other reasons why I don’t sleep, of course: the first being the third person in our bed in the shape of the Princess; the second, the unfortunate decrease in bladder control that many of us stoic mothers succumb to in middle age, having sacrificed our pelvic floor muscles for the birth of our children. Fortunately, mine’s not as bad as the midwife predicted when I gave birth to my Buddha of a son but it’s enough to make me worry subconsciously about it through the night.

 

My final issue is directly related to sharing the bed with the old man and his enviable ability to fall asleep immediately, which has developed into a new level of marital torture.

 

He comes to bed, usually after me and following two hours of golf on television, rolls over onto his side and within seconds begins to fuck me off with the taunting sound of his regular, deep sleep breathing.

 

Like, doesn’t this man have any thoughts that he needs to compartmentalise in his brain at the end of the day? Why doesn’t HE lie awake, like I do, wondering if he remembered to turn the heater off, or why Kurt isn’t back yet, or whether NC made her flight connection from Doha to Heathrow.

 

How can anyone possibly switch off their brain that quickly?

 

Meanwhile, there I lie next to him, rolling around in a state of increasing anxiety, changing from this position to that at the same time as trying to control the perpetual shift in my body temperature from as cold as ice to a sauna, one leg in, one leg out; shirt on, shirt off.

 

Which is why old people have separate bedrooms.

The Secret To Combatting Tiredness In Menopause

I’ve always loved my sleep, but this past year I’ve superseded all previous records for just how much I can sleep and how often. bed-945881_1280

 

We all know that the excuse to ‘nap’ is one of the biggest benefits of ageing for both men and women, but when you sleep for ten hours or more a night and still feel you like a complete bitch the next morning, that’s got to be symptomatic of a little more than just ageing. Anyway, the old man is like a prime minister, and can survive on very little sleep these days, while I wake up after ten hours, as irritable and bad-tempered as when I went to bed.

 

So the culprit has to be menopause.

 

Admittedly, I don’t sleep deeply, like I used to. A lower back pain problem has resurfaced over the past few weeks so I’m finding it difficult to find a comfortable sleep position – the story of my life, having recently conquered my lifelong intolerance to exercise by finally discovering an exercise routine that works for me

 

Then there are the additional problems of sleep disturbance caused by anything from noisy revellers in the street four floors beneath us, to Kurt not coming home by his curfew and then making toast in the kitchen, or the Princess snoring loudly in the bed next to me. Not forgetting the disruption caused by the nightly nagging of the call of nature; that annoying, niggling little reminder that your bladder is not as young as it used to be… but since you’re awake….

 

And when I do wake up, usually around 3.30am, I can’t just doze back off again in the space of a few seconds, like I trained myself to when the kids were newborns. I lie there and over-think…and worry…and get all cross about the unfairness of life – particularly the part where the old man can sleep so inordinately deeply while I’m stranded in insomniac hell.

 

Apparently, the fatigue and lack of energy in menopause are due to fluctuating hormone levels, (particularly Oestrogen), and stress and anxiety can compound the problem; once again, I hit the jackpot.

 

If you want the science behind it, read this, but below are some simple changes that can help:

 

Cut your caffeine. I did this a few months to help with my Rosacea and although at times I still look like Two-Face in Batman, it seems to have had a more positive effect on my sleep patterns. It has also helped reduce the night sweats – although that might also have something to do with the onset of Autumn which has pulled us out of the nightly furnace of Sydney’s summer humidity.

 

Drink less alcohol – I know… boo, hiss, fuckity fuck fuck!… but it simply doesn’t contribute to a good night’s sleep.

 

Avoid using electronic devices right before you go to sleep and revert back to the good, old-fashioned book. I picked up this advice a while ago when I was trying to resolve Kurt’s sleep issues, a common problem for people with ADHD. Having studied it ad infinitum at high school, I can strongly recommend Middlemarch by George Elliot as the most effectively tranquillising of reading materials.

 

If, unlike me, you aren’t fortunate enough to have the excuse of a really serious sports injury that prevents you from getting out there  with other serious-minded professional sports people, you need to exercise. I know the whole premise of exercise giving you more energy just isn’t logical, but apparently it also makes is produce those endorphin-thingummys that make you feel good about yourself.

 

Learn to relax – personally, this has never been a problem for me, and if you find some success with my second recommendation but then feel that life is no longer worth living, a script for medical marijuana should help, the added bonus being that you’ll sleep like a baby.

Do Separate Bedrooms Signal The Beginning Of The End Of Your Relationship?

Kurt’s empty bedroom has done a formidable job of enticing me away from the confines of the marital bed, during our son’s absence.

Two versions of earplugs. Yellow: E-A-R; Orang...
Two versions of earplugs. Yellow: E-A-R; Orange: made in Taiwan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luckily, I developed a minor cold at the beginning of last week, which gave me the perfect excuse to move into his room under the pretence of not wanting to spread my germs or keep the old man awake with my coughing, sniffing and wheezing fits.

Sadly, it was only to be a 48hr cold – not the serious case of man flu I had hoped it would be – so I had to fake my symptoms for the following three days until we came away.

I’m sure that many of you can appreciate the sheer bliss of sleeping alone for the first time in over twenty years. No fights over the doona or space, and no unexpected (and frankly RUDE) pokes in the night when I snore. You see, the old man and I have developed very different sleep rhythms and patterns as we’ve aged and the only thing we have in common in bed these days is that we are both exceptionally light sleepers.

I am a night bird who likes to go to bed late, read late into the night, tip tap on the computer at whatever time creativity calls and arise as late as my schedule will allow me to the following morning. The old man likes to retire early, arise with the birds and is unnaturally and annoyingly full of beans from sunrise.
Embed from Getty Images

I used to think that older couples adopted separate bedrooms when their sex life dried up; It never occurred to me that the decision might be linked to certain other physical changes related to the ageing process such as the call of the weaker bladder, snoring, night sweats that make the bed hotter than a sauna and the resulting insomnia that increases middle-aged intolerances.

Dimming the light on my Kindle to a glow, batting my eyelashes and my suggestion of ear plugs are no longer effective strategies for keeping the wrath of the old man at bay.

Is it okay to want separate bedrooms? Or is it a slippery slope leading to a lack of intimacy that signals the beginning of the end?