The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults age 26 – 64 should get 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night. So let’s take a quick poll. Real Women out there in that age range, how many of you average 7 – 9 hours of sleep each night? How many have had that many hours of sleep in just one night in the past two weeks? Past month? Yeeeaaahhhh, I kinda thought so.
We know that slightly over half of the U.S. Population is made up of women. Of those, approximately 60% of them are between the ages of 26 – 64. That means that a substantial amount of the population is sleep deprived on a regular basis.
Of course, we have good reasons. As young adults, many of us have babies or young children in the house, or even young pets. We are on duty 24 hours a day, and those young beings require frequent sleep interruptions at night. I remember when my son was a baby, I wanted to throw a party the first time he slept six hours in a row. Like all mommies, I learned that night terrors, bed wetting, and vomiting will all happen between 2 – 3 am. Like many mommies, I eventually learned how to feed, change, and soothe without becoming full awake, thus making the going back to sleep process easier. Eventually that phase changes, and sleep becomes a blissful reality again.
Until we move on to the next phase when we can’t sleep due to the life load on our minds. Anxiety, worry, stress, and no down time wreak havoc on our slumber. Those babies we had may now be out driving around at night by themselves. We may have other family issues, work stresses, you name it, and we have a new recipe for restless nights. We are queens of “brain overtime”. With luck and hope, this sleep deprivation is sporadic and eventually evens out.
Then we have the phase that I am now experiencing: menopause. The time in our lives where for no apparent rational reason, we just can’t sleep. It doesn’t matter how exhausted we are, or whether we’ve played by all the rules: no caffeine, no alcohol, no late screen time, get exercise, eat early…. It doesn’t seem to help. No rhyme or reason, we are just laying in the dark tired but not sleeping. I’ve never before experienced this extended a period of time of insomnia. And I really don’t like it. But I’m not alone. There are a lot of us mature women roaming around exhausted. In talking with other R.W.’s my age, I’ve heard things like “As soon as menopause hit, sleep went out the window. Four hours was my average.” Or “Oh, no, I don’t sleep. That’s why I go in to work at 6am – I’ve already been up for three hours.”
Don’t worry, guys, we know some of you have sleep challenges as well. But trust us, as the women who lay awake next to you listening to you snoring through the night, we know we have the corner on the market. The next time you guys are awake at 3am, rest assured that the woman in your life is already laying there making lists in her head, trying to solve world hunger, and calculating how many trips she’s already made to the bathroom. One of the things I’ve pondered while laying there is why Maleficent wasted her perfectly good spell on a 16-year old. If Sleeping Beauty had been in her 50’s, she would have welcomed the chance to sleep peacefully for a hundred years or so.
Thankfully the anxiety and panic I was experiencing when this phase of insomnia first started has faded. (I do fess up to one night of tears at 2:30am because I was fixated on having to get up for work in less than four hours). Now I’m finding that I’m kind of fascinated by all of this. It is remarkable to me that so many women (and, yes, some men) are going about their normal routines on little to no sleep. Of course there are plenty of articles and medical warnings about problems that can arise due to not enough sleep: lack of alertness, impaired memory, stress… and possible long term issues like high blood pressure, depression, lower sex drive – oh, and even better, premature wrinkling, dark circles under our eyes and a break down of collagen in our skin. Great, so we can be tired AND ugly. But in reality, most of us learn to cope for the short term, or even longer term, because we just can’t put life on hold. So far I can happily say that I have yet to fall asleep at work (thankful for a busy, fun job), nor have I viciously attacked anyone due to crankiness (my husband and son have learned when to hide). I have found that some weird things happen, like the loss of my ability to use big girl words (already a menopausal issue), dropping stuff, and totally forgetting something I had literally remembered to do half an hour prior. But generally speaking, all of the women I know are still brilliant, talented, caring, beautiful, funny individuals even when running on empty. To me this certainly proves who’s the stronger sex.
I know that this too shall pass eventually, just like those other sleepless phases. A kind and thoughtful R.W. today sent me a book entitled “Sleep After Menopause.” I took heart in the fact that on the very first pages, the author assures us that “I’ll never sleep again” is really not the case. Whew. Life as a zombie sure could get old eventually.
So now I have something new to read at bedtime, to learn more about yet another phenomena in R.W.’s lives. We are never too old to learn and understand more about ourselves. Besides, maybe it will be magical and put me to sleep.