When I was in my 30s and knee deep in parenting babies and little kids who WOULD. NOT. SLEEP, I kept telling myself that I just had to get through these years of exhaustion and sleep deprivation, and then everything would be fine.
Well, it turned out I was wrong. My kids sleep through the night (most nights, that is), parenting them isn’t as physically demanding as it once was, and I finally have the bed to myself. And yet, here I am at 43 years-old, and experiencing some of the shittiest sleep of my life.
It’s not fair. I feel like I put in my damn time living the life of a zombie, and I should be able to finally get some rest. But no. I have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, and I seem to wake up at the butt crack of dawn, no matter what I do.
I’m not someone who does well with sleep deprivation. It makes me more anxious, it gives me migraines, and it messes up my digestive system. Fun times.
The only solace I take in all this is that I know I’m not alone. Every single woman that I know in her 40s is having the same issue. I saw my mom go through it too. She basically spent her 40s complaining about hot flashes and messed up sleep. I get it now, Mom.
I’m someone who always wants to know why things are happening to my body, so I did some research to figure out why on earth my sleep has become a dumpster fire.
So, without further ado, here are 8 reasons sleep goes to absolute shit in your 40s:
It’s called perimenopause and it absolutely sucks. Not only are our periods all over the place and we get wicked PMS, but the hormonal changes that happen in anticipation of menopause can really mess with our ability to get a good night’s sleep.
Fluctuations in your hormones—estrogen and progesterone—can cause hot flashes, many of which happen at night, as well as general sleep disturbances, including an inability to get into a deep sleep state. Most of us experience all of this most intensely in the week leading up to our periods.
I remember when I was in my 20s and I’d work all day, go to grad school at night, and then come home at 9 p.m. and eat a giant dinner. I can’t imagine doing that now. Not just because my kids are starving for eat dinner hella early, but also because if I eat too much before bed, I get horrible indigestion and heartburn.
That’s another thing you can blame on getting older. And the thing is, even when you are careful, sometimes you get indigestion anyway, and it can totally wreck your sleep. Ugghhhh.
Yes, I know we all have stress. But there’s something unique about midlife stress. Not only do we have money/job stress and stress about our children’s wellbeing, but we are also likely dealing with aging parents, and thinking about our own ability to retire and live well as we age. We are thinking more deeply about the state of the planet and the general shitshow of our country. Let’s just say that it’s a lot, and it keeps us up at night like nobody’s business.
3. Snoring Spouses
I was lucky in that for the first 20 years of my marriage, my husband did not snore. However, soon after he turned 40, he developed allergies. And now—at least a few nights per week—he snores like crazy. Somehow, he has no trouble falling asleep, but little-old-perimenopausal-me is bothered by every little sound in the house, and his snoring is not helping matters at all.
4. Changes In Sleep Cycles
In general, aging messes with your sleep cycles and circadian rhythms. As we get older, we tend to spend more time in lighter sleep, we tend to have more trouble falling asleep, and we tend to wake up early. And yes, this can happen as early as your 40s. Blerg.
5. Bigger Kids/Bigger Problems
When our kids are little, there’s a lot of sleeplessness happening. My own kids didn’t regularly sleep through the night until they were five. Even after that, they would spend at least half the night in bed with me, which didn’t usually make for a very good night’s sleep.
I want to tell you that things got better. But while the kids themselves don’t actually wake me up nearly as much, my concerns about them do. Basically, when you have bigger kids, you have bigger worries.
You’re thinking about their school and social stressors, their happiness, their ability to “adult,” and their ability to make it in the big, scary world. Add in things like a global pandemic and climate change, and it’s enough to make it so you will never sleep again.
6. Endless Trips To The Bathroom
It’s rare that I make it through the night without a trip to the bathroom. I’ve always had a small bladder, and I make sure not to drink too many fluids before bed. But, well, everything inside you starts to sag like crazy as you get older, and it becomes nearly impossible to make it through the night without peeing. Sigh.
7. Alllll The Aches And Pains
Pretty much as soon as I turned 40, I started to think that our bed was the hardest, most uncomfortable bed in the universe. But it hadn’t changed: I had.
I used to be a side sleeper—there was nothing I liked better than to curl up on my side in a little ball and drift off to sleep. Now, if I do that, I will have the achiest hips in the morning. I have to sleep with a pillow between my knees, but even that doesn’t really help. I’ve become mostly a tummy sleeper, which sucks and is probably bad for me for some reason. But that’s the only position that doesn’t make me feel like someone broke my back or hips in two when I wake up.
8. It’s Too Damn Hot
Well, this one could use a whole essay in and of itself. Women in their 40s are hot. Hot as hell. Yes, I mean that in the “sexy hot” way, too! But I mostly mean it in terms of temperature.
I used to not really notice the temperature in the room I slept in. But now? OMG, it has to be freezing cold in order for me to get a good night’s sleep. The week before my period is the worst, because I find myself drenched in sweat at least a few nights a week then. But even when I’m not having hot flashes, my inner thermostat is just super freaking sensitive. This profoundly affects my sleep and I hate it.
So, there you have it. There are just so many reasons 40-year-old sleep is a complete disaster. I’m sure you have your own reasons to add too. In terms of how to fix it, the experts recommend things like eating well, making sure to exercise, and meditating before bed. I do think those things can help, at least a little.
But I also think it’s healthy to acknowledge that this is just a really hard phase in terms of sleep, and that it’s something so many of us are going through. I want to say it gets better, but that might be when we are done with menopause, which could be a while.
I’m just looking forward to a time in my life when I can regularly fit in some naps. A girl can dream, right?