What is the difference between perimenopause and menopause?
Menopause and perimenopause are the chapters in a woman’s life when her monthly period stops. This marks the end of our ability to birth babies. C’est la vie! So long reproductive years. For me, I’m happy for the transition and welcome it because I feel freeeee! The ambiguous signs of this transition begin during perimenopause – which is the first stage in the process. Perimenopause usually starts eight to ten years before menopause.
Menopause is official when our menstrual cycle permanently stops. So, perimenopause typically occurs in our late 40s to early 50s. Until our period stops for one year, we are in perimenopause and have symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, mood swings, irritability, low sex drive and short term memory loss. Postmenopause is the stage after menopause and the symptoms may continue for an average of four to five years, but will decrease in frequency and intensity. In the meantime, I would like to share some hacks that I use that help to combat these distressing symptoms.
Hack #1: Night Sweat Relief
The most common sign of perimenopause is waking up soaking wet. For me, this happens 3-5 times per week so I now sleep naked or wear comfortable pajamas that wick moisture from my skin. Also, I layer my bed sheets so that when I do wake up in a puddle, I simply strip that sheet off the bed and lay on the next dry layer. The best fabric that helps keep me cool is bamboo viscose. It has moisture wicking properties and breath-ability. In my experience, bamboo fabric has been the best sleep solution. It keeps me cool and comfortable all night long. It’s now a nightly ritual and I’m usually able to go back to sleep very quickly.
Hack #2: Preventing Weight Gain
I gain weight so easily now that even “food for thought” goes straight to my hips and belly. After hitting 50, I started to get thick around the middle. Now I eat dinner earlier and limit my alcohol consumption to one glass of wine so that by the time I go to bed, my body can focus on resting instead of digesting. I also do at least one hour of cardio per day (walking my dogs) and drink Japanese sencha green tea (loose leaf) for the polyphenols which have strong anti–inflammatory properties. The caffeine in green tea acts as a stimulant that has been shown to aid in burning fat. The most effective strategy by far that works for me is taking menopausal supplements. All of these lifestyle changes combined keep me from bloating and feeling like a beached whale.
Hack #3: Hot Flashes
Hot flashes are one of the most frequent symptoms of perimenopause. It’s that sudden sensation of heat that comes from within which sends us gasping for air and to seek out air conditioning by any means possible. My grandmother called them her “spells”. I personally open the freezer door and just stand there, pressing a frozen bag of peas to my neck until the door alarm beeps. Hot flashes aren’t the same for everyone and can last for various amounts of time. There are many triggers for hot flashes including spicy food, alcohol, smoking and anxiety. The vitamins I take for menopause have helped combat these spells for sure. They were created by two female entrepreneurs who know how stressful flashing can be so I trust their expertise.
Hack #4: Irritability
Patience would not be a word that describes my personality. Perimenopause has simply amplified my edginess and increased my annoyance at things such as spam callers, living in uncertain times during a pandemic, my neighbor mowing his lawn at 6am and watching the civil unrest unfold on the news. The only thing that works for me is taking deep breaths and repeating a personal mantra that affirms, motivates and inspires me to relax and embrace the moment. A book that has also helped me make sense of the changes in my body is from Dr. Christiane Northrup. It’s called The Wisdom of Menopause. It has certainly helped my mental space and is a New York times best seller. I highly recommend it.
Hack #5: Improving Libido
When my husband helps me with household chores such as washing the dishes, folding towels and taking out the trash, my libido generally improves. Just saying. And yet, I also experience vaginal dryness which makes me not want to have sex because it can be painful. So, my hack is to use a few drops of vitamin E oil in my over-the- counter lubricant just before sex for extra comfort. Also, I drink CBD water or use CBD tinctures for pain. Research shows that the active ingredients in cannabis — cannabidiol (CBD)- which do not have THC (the ingredient that gets you “high”) has a wide array of potential medical applications for pain, anxiety and seizure management. It has personally improved my sex drive and I highly recommend it. If you are a veteran, you can even get a discount on products.