Insomnia at Midlife – When the Mind Is At Its Sharpest

A hot (no pun intended) topic among my midlife, menopausal friends is insomnia, which goes hand-in-hand with hot flashes, headaches, irritability, weight gain, and so many other symptoms that come and go as we sometimes blindly find our way through the haze of perimenopause and menopause.

Insomnia is the most disruptive of all the symptoms, it seems. A conversation with some of my friends about sleep went something like this:

“I can’t sleep. I play Words with Friends at 2 a.m.”
“I fall asleep and then wake up soaked with sweat. I have to turn the air down to 52 degrees to cool off”
“If I don’t have a glass of wine or two, I can’t sleep at all.”
“If I drink any alcohol, I can’t sleep at all.”
“If I don’t take and Ambien, I can’t sleep at all.”
“If I wake up and my husband is snoring, I’m done for.”

and the worst of all:

“Once I’m up, my mind starts racing, and I never fall back to sleep.”

So what is that keeps me up at night, on those nights when I wake up, wide awake, at 1:43, or 2:17? Or worst of all, 4:30 – because if I wake up at 4:30, that’s it, I’m up. And that makes for quite a long day.

Here are some of the things that grow from tiny thoughts to big, oppressive word bubbles floating around my head:

-Money worries
-What fatal illness I must have that’s keeping me awake
-What fatal illness I must have that makes me so tired all day  (could be the not sleeping at night?)
-What to make for dinner tomorrow – ummm, today
-Where I put….something I can’t find
-What I’m going to write about for my next blog post
-Why I made that bad choice in 1986
-What I’m going to write about that will get me published in the Modern Love column
-Why I said that stupid thing in 1992
-What I’m going to write about for my next 5 blog posts
-Why I shouldn’t have had so much to drink at that party in 1997
-What it would be like if I lived in (insert city or state here)
-All the people I used to know who I don’t know anymore
-Whether all the people I used to know that I don’t know anymore ever think about me
-What I’m going to do when I run out of things to write about on my blog

Then there are these things:

-All the books in my stack that I want to read
-All the books I should read but don’t want to read
-Whether my husband will ever stop snoring
-The phone call I forgot to return
-The email I didn’t answer
-The dentist/doctor appointment I need to make
-I really should floss more regularly
-Whether my kids are happy
-Whether my husband is happy
-What does it really mean to be happy
-Is happiness an illusion
-Is it all an illusion
-Or maybe a delusion

You get the picture.

In the dark, in the middle of the night, I think about things that never cross my mind during daylight hours. I lie in bed, listening to my darling husband snoring, my adorable dog scratching and snuffling, and watch the clock. It could be worse, I guess. At least these two are here with me.

Still, I’d like to go back to sleep.

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  • Full disclosure, I make my living selling to women who have night sweats. So if you were sleeping well but the drenching night sweats woke you up, my moisture wicking sleepwear will help. Our orders come in online regularly at 2 or 3AM, no surprise, women are up and shopping!
    I believe in drugs for sleeping.I use Lunesta. I am hooked, but I am well rested so it is a trade off. I can get up at 4 AM go to the bathroom and fall back to sleep! Anyone under 45 reading that statement would think me a crazy lady, but I know you and many of your readers understand this with awe!

  • Oh, my God. I have been struggling with this more than ever the past year or two or three. It’s just like you said – you start thinking about things you don’t even think of during the day – and boom you are up all friggin’ night long. I think I need therapy!!!!! Sleeping aids make me hung over the next day, and half the time they don’t even work. What do you know about Ambien? I’ve never tried…but fear getting hooked on prescription drugs and ending up on some television show with family around, pushing me into rehab.

  • Insomnia is the pits. Even when I do sleep, unfortunately thanks to Ambien (yes I do have snacks that I don’t remember the next day) I have such busy, detailed dreams that I don’t feel rested. It’s sad because I used to be the best sleeper. The cumulative build-up of lack of sleep is awful. Really looking forward to outgrowing this “stage.” I hope.

  • OMG I wrote a post on same subject today and included a few strategies that you might be interested in.

  • I’m right there with you and have been for a few years. My hope is that retirement will make it easier because I won’t be laying there thinking about how long it is until I have to get up and go to work. One less thing to fret about!

  • Jodi Okun

    Yes..I am the 52 degree girl and the one who wakes at 1:43, 2:17 and 4:30..

    Great post !! Sharon this is my life now..for sure !!

  • Robert

    The real reason your up all night is the fact that your husband can’t control his excess gas urges!

  • Sharon,
    I feel like you must be living in my bedroom!!!
    One night is 2:30am the next 4:30am….then I fall asleep only to have to still get up at the same time..without much sleep. So the next night even though I am so tired I still can’t sleep so then I take something.
    So I feel that some mornings I am the walking dead-sleep deprived or the other mornings I walk around out of it…with a sleeping pill hangover.

    I am not sure it helps knowing that I am not in this alone? I just wouldn’t want to wish this on anyone!!

    Another great piece Sharon!!!

  • Hear hear!

    A good night’s sleep would definitely be nice. But that would require less stress. Ain’t happenin’…


  • I have insomnia, too. I know it’s hormonal, because I always had it for the two nights right before I’d start. Now it is more nights than not. My dog has health issues, and sometimes needs to go out at night, so I tell myself that the insomnia at least allows me to hear the quiet pawing at the door instead of stepping in a wet spot the next morning.

  • Insomnia doesn’t find me often…but hot flashes are a definite sleep-kill. So many times, I’ve had to get up, shower, change sheets and start over–only to discover my body going through another round. It is SO not fair. Other than that–I dream to escape all my other problems 🙂

    Great post!! Cheers, Jenn.

  • Insomnia is my middle name. The first episode happened at a relatives house while visiting and I had no idea what was happening. Toss and turn like the dryer is what I do now. I make deals with myself about what time I should get up/give up, and make coffee and face the day – oh, I mean night. It goes like this: If I don’t fall asleep by 2 a.m. I will get up, if I don’t fall asleep by 2:30 a.m. I will get up, okay I will give it to 3 a.m. then I will get up. Love your list of nonstop worries and I am glad to know I am not alone and not crazy.

  • Wow, I didn’t realize I belonged to a sisterhood of the SAME ISSUES!!! I laughed at your post because I thought you must have had a camera going in my house, but then from all the other comments, decided I AM NOT ALONE!! Except at 1 a.m. when my husband has been asleep for hours…….. We need to start a chat room (if that is something that is still around) for this so at least we have company as we sit and wait for sleep or daylight, which ever comes first!

  • That’s brutal. I am exhausted reading your list. Yes, a good night’s sleep is needed. I hate when I am awake at 1, 2, 4:33… What wakes me is a story I have to finish or one I need to start. The fatal illness one is a killer. Wishing your body gives you a break very very soon.

  • That’s brutal. I am exhausted reading your list. Yes, a good night’s sleep is needed. I hate when I am awake at 1, 2, 4:33… What wakes me is a story I have to finish or one I need to start. The fatal illness one is a killer. Wishing your body gives you a break very very soon. hang tight.

  • There are simply no end of worries that haunt us at 3am and seem manageable by 7am!

  • I so relate! Same list. When I try to switch it over to positive things, like where do I want to go on my bucket list, it still sucks, ’cause I’m still awake. Just that now, I’m awake at 3:00 a.m. thinking (obsessively) about where I want to go and how to plan all the details of a trip. So even a fun thing like a bucket list becomes problematic when it pops into my head in the middle of a hot flash, in the middle of the night. Menopause SUCKS! 🙂

  • My insomnia goes in fits and spurts and it’s been acting up lately. My two favorite tapes are the money worries and the why-did-I-say-that-thing-in-92 tapes. The frustrating part about the insomnia is when morning rolls around I use my sleep deficit as yet another excuse to NOT go to the gym. I’ll get through this and start sleeping soundly again.

  • Insomnia. I know it well. It was my best friend in my late forties,. Now in my mid fifties,, I’ve shifted my bedtime to somewhere between midnight and 2 p.m. It’s my new “normal” and I am able to sleep soundly for about seven hours. .

    • Sharon Greenthal

      I do find that if I go to sleep later – past 10:45 or so – I will sleep better. But I always wake up around 5:30 or 6:00 anyway.

  • Oh, how I can relate! I come up with entire blog posts and if I’m too drowsy to get up and take notes, they’re gone, gone with the wind…all those brilliant observations and quick turns of a phrase, gone for good. They tell us to get up and read or something but that kind of half sleep where you don’t want to get up but aren’t asleep? Arrrch!

    • Sharon Greenthal

      I have the same problem. I’ve written entire novels in the middle of the night in my head, only to have them vanish with morning light!

  • amy nowell

    My witching hour is 3:58am. I have tried everything on your list – more wine, less wine (okay, admittedly not not my fav approach and secretly thrilled when that didn’t make a difference), making myself stay up late, giving in and going to bed at 9pm. But no – my little menopausal alarm clock is set for 3:58am. My husband suggested one night that I write down all the word bubble topics on a piece of paper and see how important or scary they were in the morning. Of course, that just made me think about them all day instead of all night. Hmmm – wonder if I should make a mobile of word blurbs for above our bed – the opposite of the Peter Rabbit or teddy bear crib mobile?

    Thanks for articulating what apparently all us empty nesters are experiencing.

  • Hahahaha. Oy vey! I completely relate, especially the one about maybe there’s something wrong with me that I’m so tired all day. Could it be that i don’t sleep?

    All true. At least I’m “normal!” 🙂

  • Sharon, when you’re up at 3 am with all this in your head, you are also in my head. 😉 Seriously, this is me too.
    All the thoughts, and the snoring husband too. I’ve always been a night person, but it’s just gotten so much
    worse as I’ve gotten older. I think my 15 year old and I might have a competition to see who can stay up later.
    I just might win.

  • Hilarious Sharon. And oh so true. It is comforting to know that I am not alone in my midnight madness.

  • Somewhat disconcerting to note that you’re still in the same position two years on – hopefully it’s happening less often for you now than it was back then!

    I’m fortunate in that I work from home, so if I have a bad night’s sleep for whatever reason, I can crawl back to bed after the boys head off to school. The only downside is that then means working in the evenings to catch up, but that’s OK as I’ve never been a morning person anyway.

    But as for hubbies snoring, I can see why so many couples sleep in separate rooms later in life…

  • My insomnia started in 2009 when both my sons were deployed to the Middle East for a year at the same time. Since then, I think I can count on one hand how many nights I’ve slept through the night. I wake up maybe 2 to 3 times during the night, but thankfully, I don’t stay awake very long, but it’s still not solid sleep. I guess I’ve been very blessed that I’ve never had hot flashes, night sweats or headaches (seriously… not a one). So, at 54, I guess I really can’t complain.

  • I go through periods of this crap–now I just get up and read in another room. Sometimes I’m up for 2 hours, sometimes less. For me, there are times when I know I’m anxious about stuff (this is one of those times…) and I chalk it up to that. But sometimes there isn’t any reason I can put my finger on. We have a nice guest room with a great bed, and if it’s the snoring that’s keeping me awake, off I go.. . .I don’t see the point of torturing myself.! Doesn’t happen often, but I’m happier when I get enough sleep. White noise seems to help for some reason, so I’ve found that a fan or the sound of waves helps with those middle of the night wake-ups. Good luck!

  • R Honey

    Well,this coming morning I will know that I have a sisterhood who are also silently awake
    like me at 2:50,4:00 etc!
    I did see a funny cartoon on Facebook that was called Insomnia Jeopardy. Many of the worries
    you listed are like categories on the show game board! You can probably search for it!
    One thing I do find that helps is no tea,or diet coke,chocolate after 1 p.m. Alcohol is the worst
    and it is a depressant when you wake from the dead sleep at 3 a.m. All is doomed.
    The fun things are bad for you as usual.

  • I should not even visit this issue because it might trigger that demon. Recently I spent nights visiting all my dead relative, what I could have done different, should I feel guilty? I had to put them to rest by facing the issue and putting everything in perspective. The past is gone, period! Thank heavens the night sweats have gone away and I still do have a wonderful snoring husband. I am very grateful for those things.

  • Phew! I finally made it to the bottom of ALL OF THOSE COMMENTS! This is definitely a hot ticket subject!

    It’s almost 1AM and here I am typing to you. Last night I woke up at 4am and that was it. I’m tired but can’t sleep. Why? For a lot of the same reasons you named. Oy! Help!

  • You sure struck a nerve. I almost laughed out loud, I would have written the same post. His snoring and my inability to go to sleep quickly is a recipe for disaster. Glad to know I have such wonderful company!

  • If I slept in a room with a snoring husband, snuffling animals and a (presumbly ticking) clock I’d have trouble sleeping too.

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