Woman stuff and sleep hacking

“When we last met our intrepid explorer, she was having problems getting a good night’s sleep…” And that hasn’t changed, but I’m slowly starting to track down what’s going on.

I saw the new gynecologist and I like her very much. She explains thingsĀ very well and even draws diagrams. šŸ™‚ During my initial visit she listened to my issues and history, performed an exam, and then ordered some blood work so we could understand my current hormone levels. She also gave me some information about supplements I could try to see if they help my sleep.

The supplements are all ones I’ve heard of or tried before: Vitamin D, fish oil, magnesium, valerian, and melatonin. I’ve already been upping my magnesium over the past several months, but her recommendation was to take 500 mg in total and I wasn’t taking that much. So I added more magnesium to my daily supplements (which also already included 5,000 units of Vitamin D and fish oil). I’ve tried melatonin in the past as a supplement to help with jet lag and never found that it had any effect on me, so I’m putting that at the bottom of my experiment list. I may try valerian. Doctor advised me to take that an hour before bedtime to getĀ the full effect.

A week later I was back in her office to talk about the blood test results. And here’s where it gets interesting. FSH (follicle stimulating hormone), estrogen, and progesterone were all tested. These are the hormones that work in tandem to move a woman through ovulation and menstruation. My estrogen and progesterone levels were nearly non-existent, which means that I’m now technically menopausal. My FSH, however, is super high, which worries the doc a bit since I haven’t gotten to that level in just a short period of time. Also, I’m still bleeding on a semi-regular basis, and with such a low estrogen and progesterone level that shouldn’t be happening at all.

I had an ultrasound a couple of days ago and am returning to the doctor next week to discuss the results. The ultrasound could lead to even more procedures and tests which are likely to be unpleasant. One of the potential options weĀ discussed was an endometrial biopsy, and since I just had one last fall I know what that is like. (I agree with my friend who had the same procedure and said the doctor needs to give way better drugs than just advising one to take ibuprofen first!) This doctor also mentioned polyps as a potential issue, and noted that those would have to be removed, although she didn’t get into details about how that would be done.

Doctor said that since my estrogen is nearly non-existent, it’s no surprise I’m having hot flashes. The ones that happen during the day aren’t too disruptive to me, but the night-time ones have been waking me up and this is what led me to the doctor in the first place. Until we can figure out what’s going on, I can’t start any hormone replacementsĀ so I’ve been working on ways to increase the amount of restful sleep I get.

For now I’m left trying different things to increase my “good sleep.” I’m a bit skeptical about the recommended “sleep enhancing” supplements of valerian and melatonin. Beside, I don’t have a problem falling asleep, my problem is disruptions that prevent me from entering and maintaining a deep, restful sleep. Just before I saw doctor I got a Fitbit that I’m also wearing at night to track my sleep habits. The Fitbit is showing just what I described: I fall asleep quickly, but I’m experiencing many periods of “restless” sleep and short periods of being awake. I suspect some of the “restless” sleep the Fitbit is recording is me moving around at night, which is normal for me; I’ve rarely been a sleeper who maintains the same position throughout the night. But since I’m now clearly recalling periods of waking up hot and trying to remedy that situation, that’s a very different type of restlessness for me.

I’m getting better at managing these disruptions. I keep the remote control for the fan very close to my bed so it’s easy to grab without having to heave myself up first. I know where the buttons are to turn the fan on, increase the blower, and change the oscillation pattern so I waste little cognition on it. In other words, the pattern has become more “normal” for me: throw off covers, turn on fan, sink back into sleep. Waken sometime later feeling cold and reverse process. Repeat.

I’m experimenting with goingĀ to bed earlier in order toĀ increase my opportunity to cumulatively get “enough” sleep. Last night I was in bed at 8 PM so I could squeeze in about 30 minutes of reading and then be asleep by 8:30. I had to be up at 6 AM this morning and I thought that if I was in bed for 9.5 hours, it was more likely I would get 8 hours total of sleep. It wasn’t even dark when I went to bed last night, which feels very odd to me. Sadly, if I have to keep this up I may also have to curtail or completely give up some of the fun activities I do at night. On Wednesdays I have to be up at 5 AM, which means that going to knitting group at 6:30 PM on Tuesday nights just can’t happen if I need to be in bed at 7 PM. On Thursdays I usually hike from 6 to 8 PM with a group, but trying to squeeze in dinner and be in bed before 9 PM will be very hard so I may have to skip the hiking group, too. Last night I gave up the weekly bike ride I had just started adding to my routine with another group.

Despite my increased bed time, I’m still not feeling very rested today, either. But it’s only been one night so I don’t think I can form an opinion of the approach yet. I’m hopeful that I’ll find out something at my next doctor visit that leads me to get better sleep, too.

(Not so) briefly

It’s been awhile since I last wrote, and this morning seemed a perfect time to start a (not so) brief post.

Today is a Saturday (hooray!) and I slept in as much as I was allowed to (Hannah dog starts getting pretty insistent at a certain point) then had a cup of coffee and took the dog for a walk. That one line has three topics in it: sleep, coffee, and walking.

Sleep
I have started the challenging part of perimenopause: hot flashes at night. I can’t say they are the most horrible thing ever. I don’t wake up drenched or anything like that, but I do wake up hot and slightly sweaty, and then have to try falling asleep again. Luckily I have a fan with a remote control which helps. So an evening may go like this: wake up flushed with heat, throw off covers, grab remote and turn on fan, lay there trying to ride it out, feel cool enough to cover up and sleep again. Repeat again at some point. One night I woke up like this every two hours. Ugh.

I don’t do well without adequate sleep, and this makes me cranky and less productive at work. Considering that the alarm goes off at 5 AM many days so I can get on phone calls by 5:30 AM (and I’m the type of person who really needs daylight to feel awake, so the 5 AM thing is already tough for me) any type of sleep disruption is horrible for me.

Next week I’m seeing a gynecologist recommended by one of the local women I’ve met to have a discussion about hormones. I’ve always had mixed feelings about taking hormones based on the potential side effects and my thoughts that eventually one has to get off the damn things so they could just be a delaying tactic. But I have some friends who swear by bio-identical hormones, and there’s a lot I don’t know, so I’ll seeĀ what the doctor says.

Coffee
I’ve started down the path of coffee geekery and it is fun. Shortly before I left Chicago my trusty auto-drip coffee maker died. I decided to not replace it with another auto-drip maker since I was really the only coffee-drinker and I didn’t need to make a large amount of coffee every day. I instead did a bit of research and tried a smallish Chemex pot lent by a friend. I found out threeĀ things: first, my standard hot water kettle made pouring water over the grounds difficult (I understand why those gooseneck pots are preferred); second, because the grounds have to be a little larger for pour over, you just can’t pick up a bag of pre-ground beans; third, I really didn’t like standing there slowly pouring water over the grounds.

After a bit more research IĀ decided to try a Clever dripper. I like the fact that I don’t have to stand over it slowly pouring water over the grounds, and that it combines the advantages of pour-over and the French press without the annoying grounds a French press usually leaves in your cup. A standard grindĀ suitable for an auto-drip coffee maker works well, so it’s possible to be lazy about grinding your own at home or in the store. Since I can only make one cup of coffee a time it means I drink less coffee, too. I tend to make two 12-ounce cups of coffee over the course of aĀ morning, using a mix of regular and decaffeinated beans.

My most recent foray into coffee geekiness is to replace the big and cumbersome electric kettle I had been using with a gooseneck electric kettle for more controlled pouring, and a burr coffee grinder. I had been buying beans at the grocery store and grinding them there, but the closest grocery store with a grinder had been having problems with their grinder and this has made grinding coffee a pain. I like having more control over the grind and pour, and my morning cups of coffee have been fun to make. (And, yes, I do have a scale that I usually make my coffee on, too.)

Walking
One of my goals in moving to California was to increase my walking. While my old neighborhood in Chicago was walkable, I often didn’t want to go out walking because it was too cold/icy/hot/rainy. TheĀ weather isĀ more temperate all year ’round in northern California, making walking more pleasurable. I live in the area known as “Old Town” in Napa, which is within walking distance of downtown. I often walk to and from the library and post office. I take the dog out for walks twice a day, and I usually go to and from the river, which is a little over two miles round trip. I’ve also taken the dog to many of the parks in the town for walks, including a couple which are quite hilly.

I’ve also joined a couple of hiking groups through Meetup.com. (Meetups are very popular in the Bay Area; you can find a Meetup for just about anything.) One group meets in Sonoma and the other in Napa. I’ve been able to go on hikes on weekends in Sonoma, and one night a week in Napa. These aren’t leisurely strolls, but both groups also have hikers of various abilities which is what appeals to me. I had problems last year with both ankles (one was broken and the other sprained), so I knew I wasn’t going to be a fast hiker and didn’t want to be the lone personĀ at the back of group.

Now that I’m walking and hiking so much, I decided to get a Fitbit to track my activity. I’ve only had it for three days now, but I’ve been hitting the target of 10,000 steps pretty easily. I’ve also been wearing it at night to monitor my sleep so I can see how it is recording the hot flash disruptions.

Errands, errands, errands
This is another good thing to do on Saturdays. I’m still “gearing up” and furnishing the house, so some of today’s errands involve purchasing yard furniture.

This month is the last one forĀ my Discovercard spending challenge, which I’ve managed to meet every month so far. Even though I have been lacking some standard things (such as a table at which to eat meals), I found it difficult to keep spending every single month. It’s just not my usual approach.

Two days ago I finally bought a small kitchen/dining table and two chairs. I had been thinking I was going to have to drive all the way to Ikea in Emeryville for a small table, but during one of my activities this week (an hour of cycling, followed by a burger and beer special at a local hangout) a neighbor mentioned this furniture store in town that I hadn’t tried because I had been focusing on going to consignment and thrift stores. The furniture store had exactly what I needed and they delivered it to my house 30 minutes later. Considering that I didn’t have to drive an hour each way, pay a bridge toll, load and unload myself, and then put it together myself, I think the price wasĀ fair. Today I’m getting some outdoor chairs to go around a small outdoor table I bought at Target last month, and a patio umbrella.

This final push to get the house furnished is also partially driven by an upcoming visit from my mother and sister. When sister and her guy visited with me in February, we had to use a small desk as our dining table. Since I only had two folding chairs and there were three people, one person had to use the exercise ball as a dining chair, too. That wasn’t going to work with my nearly 75 year-old mother. Today I’m also looking at hand-held showers since I think that will help during mom’s visit, too.

After breakfast this morning I pulled out the bike and accomplished a few other errands around town:

  • Make photocopies of receipts at the library (and I also picked up a book and some music CDs)
  • Get coffee beans at the local coffee shop (I’m trying a new blend of regular and decaf)
  • Stop at tourist info office to get activity ideas for mom’s visit (since she will not be able to walk far, we have to think through the activities)
  • Pick up a wood fire roasted chicken at the local Mexican market (only available on weekends, but so delicious!)

So far, it’s been a good Saturday. Now, onwards to more errands so I can enjoy some TV time tonight!