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Awake at 2:30 AM!

Pat TaubPat Taub

It seems that almost every older woman I know, myself included, has sleep problems. Insomnia is the new hot topic. Sleep tips abound on the Internet and in popular women’s magazines.

For most of us the problem isn’t so much falling asleep but waking up in the wee hours of the morning and not being able to get back to sleep. Conventional advice for unbroken sleep tells us not to use computer based devices before bed, resist that glass of wine close to bedtime, take melatonin at least one hour before retiring, and sleep in a darkened room. I follow these recommendations but still wake up well before my alarm goes off.

Pat Taub, WOW blog, Portland, Maine

Yours truly in the grips of insomnia

I’ve also tried, with limited success recommendations for falling back to sleep which include getting out of bed, if I’m still awake after 15 minutes, and moving into a chair to read. Or, stay in bed and count my blessings. I even considered sleep expert Mark Tyrrell’s advice to switch from “hunting” to “caught” mode, which means abandoning my quest for solutions to the night worries that keep me awake by moving into ‘caught’ mode.

Tyrrell explains: Take your worries and strongly imagine that they have been solved . . . The more outlandish the solution the better . . . because you’re engaging in out of the box thinking. Hmm, if I imagine all the difficult people in my life being sent to Mars, will that send me back to slumber land? I have my doubts.

Other experts rally around a variety of relaxation techniques like focusing on a white light that moves through your body from your toes to your head, rubbing your ears or rolling your eyeballs with your eyes shut. The last two are so silly that I avoid them, thinking they’ll set off convulsions of laughter, making me even more wide-awake.

Pat Taub, WOW blog, Portland, Maine

Just when I thought I would never lick insomnia, I discovered  the concept of “segmented sleep.”

According to historian Roger Ekirch this was the common sleep pattern before the Industrial Revolution, where sleep was divided into “first sleep” and “second sleep.” People would go to bed, sleep for four hours, and get up to write, read, and even have sex. After a few hours, they’d go back to bed for another four hours of sleep. In the morning they’d report feeling refreshed.

Pat Taub, WOW blog, Portland, Maine

A Victorian woman using her “second sleep” to try out a new hairstyle

Ekirch maintains that consolidated sleep with no awakenings may not be the natural way to sleep. Wow, was this welcoming news. Now when I wake in the middle of the night I don’t panic, I read something light, sometimes accompanied by a cup of herbal tea. When I feel sleepy I go back to bed.

However, I still have nights when the Ekirch principle doesn’t work. At those times I long to reach out and phone my friends, many of whom are surely awake. I’d love to form a middle of the night chat circle for old ladies pulsating with brilliant ideas for saving the world. Maybe this is the best solution yet for my insomnia . . .


How do you deal with insomnia?



Pat Taub is a family therapist, writer and activist and life-long feminist. She hopes that WOW will start a conversation among other older women who are fed up with the ageism and sexism in our culture and are looking for cohorts to affirm their value as an older woman.