This week, while working at home, I fell asleep sitting on my couch reading a report. I might have been there all afternoon if the UPS delivery man hadn’t rung the door for my signature.
As a single mother of a tween boy, #tired is an old, familiar friend. Tired is greeted with cups of coffee and soothed with exercise. I’ve developed routines to fend off tiredness, or at least manage it, so that I can successfully juggle my career, child, and social life.
Until this year, that is. For the past 6 months, I have been utterly exhausted. And unlike years past, I’ve been unable to power through the fatigue. It has felt as if I’ve been walking in some fugue state, or playing a newly bitten zombie in “The Walking Dead”. It is a level of exhaustion unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve taken an afternoon or early evening nap almost every night-even after exercising in the afternoon. I’ve gotten eight to nine hours of #sleep, and still craved more. I’ve reduced my sugar and caffeine intake, eaten appropriately, and still, I can hardly keep my eyes open by 5:30 pm.
The culprit of this perfect storm of sleepiness and exhaustion surprised me: it’s hormones. My condition, often called ‘crashing fatigue,’ is related to the onset of perimenopause. Characterized by drowsiness, muscle fatigue, decreased wakefulness, and fatigue after eating, crashing fatigue is caused by falling hormone levels associated with menopause. As one’s body adjusts to different levels of estrogen and progesterone, cortisol levels, which control the body’s alertness, become imbalanced. This results in the type of eyelid-drooping, nap-taking fatigue that I’ve experienced.
Exercise daily. 30-60 minutes of exercise each day reduces fatigue and boosts energy. While exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when exhausted, studies have shown that a daily workout is one of the best ways to reduce feelings of exhaustion. Exercise helps restore healthy adrenal function, which will enable the cortisol in the body to work more effectively.
Limit caffeine and alcohol. Women may become more sensitive to the effects of caffeine as they get older. Caffeine also seems to increase the prevalence of hot flashes which is another factor in poor sleep. While caffeine and alcohol may help in the short-term, both may interfere with sleep if consumed later in the evening. Consider eliminating coffee for a week (it takes about three days to get caffeine out of your system) and see if you feel better.
Eat alkaline rich foods. Foods rich in Vitamin D and magnesium have been effective in reducing the symptoms of chronic fatigue and weakness. Foods rich in Vitamin D include oily fish such as trout, salmon, tilapia, and flounder. Portabella mushrooms, milk, and eggs all contain high levels of Vitamin D. Magnesium-rich foods include figs, dates, leafy greens such as spinach and kale, and avocadoes. These foods help balance ph levels and increase energy.
Explore relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation. Stress and anxiety may be contributing to fatigue. These mindfulness practices reduce stress, increase muscle relaxation, and quiet the mind all of which can contribute to more restful sleep.
Get more rest. Many perimenopausal women are stretched thin-between managing their careers and caring for families and friends, it may seem like there is not enough time in the day—especially time enough for more sleep. Yet, deep sleep is proven to reduce stress, control weight, and increase overall health. Try to get eight-ten hours a night. And when you feel a wave of fatigue crashing over you, try to nap if possible.
Most importantly, don’t feel guilty about taking the time for self care. Your body needs you to take a little more time out—let it.