If You Suffer From ‘The Witching Hour,’ You Can Thank Perimenopause

If You Suffer From ‘The Witching Hour,’ You Can Thank Perimenopause

April 1, 2021 Updated April 7, 2021

Woman covering her face with pillow
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I’ve never had trouble sleeping until I hit my 40s. In fact, my roommate in college used to have to shake me awake when we had a fire drill in the middle of the night because I was such a heavy sleeper, the loud buzzing wouldn’t even make me toss or turn.

Not only that, I’ve always needed lots of sleep. My baby book clearly states (in my mother’s writing) I slept eight hours straight my first night home from the hospital.

In high school, I never craved staying up late like my three teenagers do. I’d be falling asleep on the sofa around eight o’clock every night then put myself to bed when I woke up.

Even after having babies and knowing full well one of them was going to wake me up at any moment to eat, need a drink, or if they’d had a bad dream, I had no problem falling asleep.

However, my early forties took away my ability to fall asleep hard and fast. I was so tired all damn day and my mind would start racing at night.

I’ve tried it all — melatonin (which gave me nightmares), sleeping pills, calming apps, and most recently  a combination of two magnesium vitamins and lavender essential oil (which seems to be working the best).

Something new has popped up in my sleep schedule this past year though: the witching hour. Otherwise known as waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to fall back asleep, or waking up several more times.

I used to think it was because I was getting up to use the bathroom, then checking my phone to see what time it was. This was something I’d always done with zero problems of falling back asleep, but it was the only thing I could think of.

So, I kept my phone downstairs. It kept happening.

I tried really hard not to drink anything after 6:30 p.m. thinking that if my body didn’t have to go pee at 1:15 a.m. every morning, maybe then I could fall asleep.

That wasn’t it either. I’ve still been waking up at the same time without being able to fall back into a deep sleep.

If you are struggling with this too, you know how brutal it is. I’m tired during the day, I feel irritated, and everything just feels off.

Scary Mommy talked with, Dr. Beyerlein, founder Pacific Women’s Center, via email. Dr. Beyerlein is a leading physician, researcher, and teacher in the fields of Obstetrics and Gynecology where menopause research and treatment is his specialty.

Dr. Beyerlein says one of the causes of waking up at night are night sweats due to hormonal shifts. It’s also important to note that this time in your life (the ages between 40 and 50) can have an effect on your mental health.

Dr. Beyerlein says, “Attention is needed to address the new increase in anxiety and depression noted in the perimenopausal years. Which also leads to a decrease in sleep.”

Many of my friends I talk to who are around my age say they feel like this is a huge reason why their minds aren’t able to settle if they wake up at night. Sure, hormones play a role but it’s also a time in our lives when our kids are growing up, we are wondering what the next phase of our life will be, and it can leave a lot of us feeling unsettled.

I can honestly say there isn’t a woman I know who is in her 40s who isn’t struggling with sleep in some way. So, what can we do about it? I know I want some answers since sleep is so precious to our well being. 

Dr. Beyerlein says there are ongoing trials assessing the treatment of hot flashes with new non-hormonal medications, and cognitive behavioral therapy, which can help. “However, you have to consider many things for treating the symptoms such as symptoms, medical history, and personal desire.”

We also talked with Dr. Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, and Chief Medical Officer at Bonafide, who shared some great tips you can start doing today. First, make sure your room is a comfortable sleeping temperature. “A cool, ambient room, moisture wicking sleep clothes, a comfy mattress and no screen time just before bed can help wonders,” she says adding, “Moderating fluid intake before bed may also help.”

I invested in some bamboo sheets last summer and it was an excellent investment and has helped me stay comfortable. Turning down the heat in my room in the winter time also helped. My partner wasn’t so crazy about that but they can always bundle up with more blankets and stay warm while sleeping through the night. The person who is suffering from sleep loss should address their needs. 

Another tip from Dr. Dweck is to have a diet naturally low on the glycemic index such as the Mediterranean diet. “Limiting carbs, processed food and sugar allows for steady glucose and insulin levels and may diminish hot flashes as a result,” she says.  

While I don’t follow any certain kind of diet because I don’t like to be restricted, I try to limit the processed sugar and flour — though I do have it a few times a week because I love it. However, I do notice I don’t sleep as well when I do indulge in brownies, cake, or a big Mexican feast. I wake up even more and I’m definitely hot and uncomfortable, even on a cold winter night.

If you are waking at night, tossing and turning, it isn’t fun — I know. Hopefully some of these things will help you have a more rested night but if not, call your gynecologist and talk about your options.