Poor sleep quality has become a particularly distressing side effect of “aging” for me. Foremost, I’m tired of being tired. Secondly, I’ve always loved to sleep, so I miss those solid nights of sleep. I have no idea what a typical “sleep block” is for me now, but I suspect it’s somewhere between 2-4 hours, way down from 10-8.
I knew from my female friends ahead of me in the age curve that “restless” nights become a common issue. One example? The still clear, panic-y memory of being in the locker room with fellow masters swimmer “Magic Hands” Pam (how I envy her quick breast stroke hand recovery!) following a 5 a.m. practice, wondering what the heck time she got up to have had time to make us fresh hard-boiled eggs before swimming that morning because “she couldn’t sleep.”
Fitful sleep cycles started when I was in my young 40s (all those hormones dropping to get ready for menopause!), and became bad enough that I started looking for potential solutions by my mid-40s. Those “seven tips to ensure a better night’s sleep” articles were of little use for me. I’ve always preferred sleeping in a quiet, cool, dark room. Reading in bed right before lights out has been a lifelong habit, so bright electronic screens weren’t disrupting my sleep cycle. With swim practice, I exercise nearly every day and adhere to the same sleep/wake schedule daily. And, I’ve always eaten an early dinner to digest prior to that early bedtime required for a.m. practice.
I’ve taken melatonin for the past five years, but found (similar to comments I’ve read and heard) that I had to keep upping the amount to achieve a solid six hours of sleep—I worked my way up from a quarter of a 3mg pill to a full pill every night within a few years.
This past year, the melatonin didn’t seem to be doing didily. I was aware of waking up several times every night, couldn’t easily fall back asleep, and was having near-constant nightmares (another melatonin side effect I’ve since learned about.) It was time to try something new.
After reading a chance article about how people with anxiety kept reporting that passion flower provided an additional “side-effect” of sound sleep, I looked into passion flower’s sleep aid potential. I like what I found—100% plant-based (melatonin is a synthetic hormone), no known side effects (not even next-day mental fogginess) and affordable (.27-cents/dose, which is 800mg for 45 days).
Passion Flower worked well, and right away for me. The first night I tried it (I took the two capsules right before picking up my book to read) I felt noticeably more relaxed and sleepy while reading, and feel asleep easily and quickly. The next morning, I felt much more alert and rested, with had no memory/awareness of waking up during the night.
During the past month of my passion flower trial, I continue to have improved sleep—I’m not sleeping a solid 8-10, but my blocks of time have become longer, and I wake feeling more refreshed. Nightmares have become much less frequent too. The other element I appreciate about passion flower is that I don’t fall into a heavy, drugged sleep. If my cat paws me to hold him, I’m able to wake and make an adjustment. This is a relief, because I wouldn’t want to take anything that had me sleeping through events such as say, a fire.
I can’t do much about aging and the accompanying issues, but I’ll continue to take passion flower. Meanwhile, I can certainly work more on what is probably my other big sleep inhibitor: reducing stress levels!
Next week: Book Review: Penny Heyns, An Autobiography with Gary Lemke