Sleep Struggles

150 150 Kristin
  • 0
Dear Frances,

I think that there are two secrets of middle age that no one prepares you for—you will never see both near and far completely clearly again and you will constantly struggle with sleep.

I am writing this blog post not as someone who has all the answers but instead as someone who is always looking for help both falling asleep and staying asleep! With the recent time change, it seemed like a good idea to pool our resources so that we have a full arsenal of things to try to overcome our sleep struggles!

I don’t know about you, but I feel like there are a couple aspects of sleep struggles: getting to sleep at the beginning of the night and getting back to sleep when you wake up in the middle of the night. I think that you’ve told me that you have no issues with getting to sleep initially. I envy that. My husband also drops off in minutes as I lay there secretly seething that he can fall asleep so fast!

Ollie has no problems sleeping. Like a toddler, he runs around like crazy and then collapses.

I can be falling asleep watching TV on the sofa or literally dropping the book I’m reading in bed. But as soon as I turn the light out—bam! My eyes fly open and my brain turns back on. I’m dating myself with this reference, but my brain is like a Rolodex, just spinning to look for something to obsess about instead of going to sleep. What will it be tonight? That time that you put the wrong link in an email for work? That time you overshared when you ran into an acquaintance in the grocery store? Things that don’t bother me at all during the day can keep me up for hours at night. Does that happen to you?

I have read books on “sleep hygiene”, podcasts about sleep, and more internet articles than I care to share. So I am well acquainted with the basics. I know you need to have a consistent sleep schedule (check), and a dark and cool bedroom (check and check). Those are easy for me.

Some things are not as easy for me, so I’m less consistent about them—no caffeine after 2 pm (I’m getting better about this one). No screens for an hour before bed. Yeah—that one is not happening. I’m usually watching a show on my iPad or reading on my Kindle (which does have a warm light setting). I’m not sure how much this really affects sleep. Do I need blue light blocking glasses for nighttime screentime? I try to stay away from the news and social media at night. I’m just watching cozy mysteries and I’m sure that those murders aren’t affecting my sleep! (ahem). I feel like I should experiment more with this one. Maybe hand stitching while listening to an audiobook?

If it were not for Ollie, Bailey would curl up and sleep all day. Lucky girl!

I employ my crutch of listening to audiobooks more often than I’d like. I have found that listening to a book that I’ve already listened to (so I’m not overly engaged in the story) helps to keep my brain from obsessing. It simply gives my brain something to do. Anyone who knows me well will not be surprised that my go-to for this is Louise Penny mysteries (set to turn off after 30 minutes). I know the stories well but love them. An important element seems to be a male British narrator. It’s that low British voice that really lulls me to sleep! But what I have learned after years of leaning on this crutch, is that it usually helps to get me to sleep, but I think it interferes with me staying asleep. So some nights I’m relying on this crutch multiple times to help get me back to sleep. Lately, I’ve been trying to wean myself off of this, and I think I sleep for longer stretches. What I need to remember is that crutches work best when you only use them occasionally.

I even tried CBD oil for a few months a while back. I wasn’t sure it was working, but when I decided it wasn’t worth the cost and stopped–I realized that maybe it had more of an effect than I realized. It’s kind of an expensive solution though. I’ve heard that magnesium is also helpful, but I think I get enough of that in my multivitamin. I tried the Calm gummies for a while (a magnesium supplement), but eating a gummy 30 minutes before bed doesn’t work for me–I’m in my PJs with teeth brushed by 7:30 most nights! I don’t want to chew a gummy at 10 pm. I know what you’re thinking–but truly–I’m not high-maintenance! (I’d also like to mention that the phrase “eating a gummy” seems to have a different connotation these days … )

However, I am to the point now where I will only endure one bad night of sleep before I pull out some help the next night, usually in the form of Benadryl or melatonin. One Benadryl capsule (25mg) works like a charm to get me to sleep—but even then there is a good chance wake up between 2 and 4 am and have trouble getting back to sleep. It’s like it wears off and then wakes me up. It’s similar with melatonin but less of a sure thing to get me to sleep. I have read that the melatonin available in stores is a much higher dose than we need. Less is better. I’ve been cutting m 5mg melatonin tablets in half, and I’m going to try cutting them in quarters next.

As you know, I got an Apple watch for Christmas and I enjoy the sleep tracking feature. I don’t know how accurate it is–but I have recognized some patterns. I do regularly get 7 hours of sleep, which is good. I don’t think I get enough “deep sleep”. This is apparently one of the best and most restorative forms of sleep and you should aim for 90 minutes a night. I average about 30 minutes and it’s all before midnight. Have you ever heard the saying that your best sleep is before midnight? I think that’s when most deep sleep takes place, at least in older people. It’s interesting for me to see how many times my watch records me as waking up during the night–sometimes it jibes with my memory of the night and sometimes not. It’s just data–I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but I’m finding it interesting.

It seems that I have only laid out problems with no great solutions. So, I turn it over to you–what are your tips and tricks for a good night’s sleep? And dear readers, please weigh in! We’d love to have your input!


Dear Kristin,

Dear Kristin,

I’m writing this from my very cold house, a house that has been without central heat for a week now and will remain without central heat until Monday. Just our luck: our furnace went kaput during central NC’s only cold spell of Winter 2023.

One of the upsides of having a house that’s cold is that I’m sleeping well at night, and if I wake up at 3 or 4, which isn’t unusual, I’m so happy to be cozy and warm under our pile of quilts and comforters that I forget to worry obsessively about whatever’s making me anxious at the moment. 

Travis doesn’t care if you wake him up; he’ll fall back to sleep in the blink of an eye!

It won’t last, of course. The heat will come back on (thank goodness!), and I’ll find myself awake in the predawn hours, my mind wandering into a bad neighborhood of regret, embarrassment and worry. Sometimes in the normal course of things, I get lucky and sleep overtakes me after twenty minutes or so; sometimes I don’t fall asleep until 6AM. While it’s true that as a self-employed empty nester I can make up for those lost hours by sleeping in, I really hate getting out of bed any later than 8:00.

Like you, if I’ve had a bad night’s sleep, I tend to take Benadryl or Melatonin the following night, just to ensure a solid five hours. I also observe a regular bedtime, exercise daily, avoid coffee after 2PM, etc. But I can drug myself, exhaust myself and deprive myself of caffeine (and sugar), and none of it guarantees a good night’s sleep. 

Also like you, I often turn to audiobooks for help. If nothing else, listening to a story keeps me entertained and stops me from spinning out over everything that could possibly go wrong in my life and the lives of my loved ones. Lately, I’ve been listening to David Sedaris’s diaries. There’s no plot to them, just stories about familiar characters: his family, his long-time partner Hugh, various friends who come visit him in various locales. 

I wish I knew a remedy for those 4AM wake-and-worry sessions. While I suspect that as long as I have a bladder, I’m going to get up at some point during the night to heed nature’s call, I’d still love to be able to slip back under the sheets and quickly return to the Land of Nod. 


  • mary jo preti

    Like many older women, I have the same problems, getting to sleep and going back to sleep. Since I usually get up during the night to use the bathroom, I needed something to get me back to sleep. If I have to turn on a light or turn off a light for reading I just stay up. But reading is what puts me to sleep in the middle of the night. I use a kindle (paper-like) with the light adjusted low. I can read on the kindle, and I find I fall asleep and don’t wake up completely when I press the off button. IF I fall asleep before I press the off button, it goes off automatically anyway. I have a few very familiar books that I resort to if I”m really having trouble. Added bonus, it disturbs my husband much less than reading a regular book with a book light does. We travel in a van a few months a year and the kindle is wonderful.

    My mom who lived until she was 97 and paid her bills online until 96, always fell asleep to an audio book. She had a machine that my dad got because his vision was bad. She got to keep it when he died. We had fun picking out the books she would read. She got a wide variety of books all the time. Now we don’t need these machines. It’s wonderful the audio books you can get from the library.

    My husband sleeps like a champ. He listens to music with headphones to get to sleep. I worry about his hearing.

    Good luck! Good sleep is so critical to good health. It’s one of the three pillars: good diet, exercise and good sleep.

  • Vicki Holloway

    Sleep is something that worsens with age and I dream of the deep solid sleep I remember getting as a kid wishing that was possible again. I started having trouble sleeping about the time of the change and some health issues. I wound up at a sleep Dr and I have sleep apnea and am treated for it. I sleep better but 3 am is the time I wake up often and sometimes falling back asleep is hard. I wish there were easy answers but it seems that it’s pretty complicated

  • Tricia

    I used to have trouble getting back to sleep after waking in the wee hours, but taking Glycine capsules (2) before bed has really helped. It does seem to give me especially vivid dreams sometimes! But it’s worth it, I think. I also usually read on my iPad on the “night” setting before going to sleep, but I sometimes keep a “real” book and read it only before bed, to give my eyes and brain a break from screens.

  • Tracie

    I started having sleep issues with perimenopause and it seemed to improve after going through menopause. The worst was all the anxious thoughts that kept me tossing and turning. Then I read that those anxious voices are simply “monkey chatter” so quit listening to it. Thankfully, that helps me a lot. I can catch myself and think, “This is monkey chatter. Everything will be better in the morning so stop worrying about it. Plus, if I really need to solve a problem, I’ll think more clearly in the morning and can ask for help.” … And I took a lot of Benadryl back in the day. The topic of sleep reminded me of a meme my husband showed me this week as we were shutting out the lights.

    My dreams be like: “You seem stressed. Would you prefer to lose all your teeth tonight or return to high school?”

    There are 503 comments so far, and many of them are hilarious, especially if you have had the same anxiety-induced dreams. Here are a few of the comments:
    “Why not both, and also you forget to wear pants?”
    “I dream that I need a wee and there are no doors on the toilet stalls.”
    “There is no fear like the dream where we’re running late for a test in a class we don’t remember signing up for. Give us axe murderers every night over this terror.”
    “I always have dreams about either returning to high school and I forgot my locker combination or I return to college and completely forgot about a class all semester and now I have a test.”
    “High school it is, but this time you’re nakey!”

    If you want to read comments instead of counting sheep, look at @whineforwine_ on Instagram’s account and the March 3 post. You’re welcome!

  • Audrey

    Kristin, your sleep habits mimic mine very closely. I do the exact same with audiobooks by listening to something I’ve listened to multiple times. I have talked to my dr about this sleep issue of having a hard time falling asleep and staying asleep. I told her about the audiobooks and she would like me to try weaning myself, but it’s hard. The advice she gives is meditation (I have little to no success with this), deep breathing, taking a bath, watch the screen time and don’t worry about things that are outside of your control.

    We’re retired and are fortunate to not have any major drama or health concerns in our family (right now), so I think about silly things; what time should I feed my sourdough starter, how much more snow are we going to have this winter (like I can do something about it), are we really happy streaming instead of relying on cable, and the list of nothingness goes on and on. I’ve stopped wearing my watch and monitoring my sleep patterns as I want to be an over-achiever in this area and can’t ever measure up, so I find it causes me some stress (I know, silly). Elusive sleep will we ever see each other again?

    P.S., my husband regularly gets 2 to 2-1/2 hours of deep sleep a night, sigh…plus he gets more calories everyday. 😊

  • Becky

    I’m so happy to hear that I’m not the only one with this problem! I’ve not tried the audiobook solution tho – will consider that next time. I have wondered about something Audrey mentioned – if it is somehow connected to eating carbs (my hubby sleeps and has no issue at all with eating tons of carbs where I try to limit them) so I wonder if more carbs = better sleep? I usually give myself a limit of 1 to 1 1/2 hours of being awake then I move to the sofa – often just the change of venue will help me fall back asleep as I’m not worried about keeping hubby awake with my tossing and turning! And I turn on a heating pad and the fan as the localized heat will help me relax and the fan keeps me cool! Hahaha

  • Patty

    My sleep success is mixed but I have the most luck when I read before bed, usually on my Kindle. As soon as I feel sleepy, I stop reading. Even if I really want to know what happens next, I stop reading and go to sleep. My thoughts tend to stay on the book and not wander off. At those wake-up in the middle of the nights and can’t get back to sleep times, I have sometimes tried reading some more with just a few minutes and this often works to get me back to sleep.

  • Theona

    Sleep is hit or miss, but either way sleep/no sleep seems to go in cycles. I found a time-release melatonin that allows me to sleep for longer periods of time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.