Inspiration and info for midlife women who lift—or want to start

Woman with insomnia, maybe suffering with menopause, lying in bed with a pillow over her head, anxious and upset because she can't sleep.

My insomnia battle

Hello, dear reader. You may (or may not) have noticed that I haven’t posted any new content here for quite a while… much longer than I intended or wanted.

This has not been due to lack of desire to post. Quite the opposite, in fact.

It’s been the result of hitting a metaphorical brick wall: wicked and at times intractable insomnia.

Sleep has never been a problem for me, other than dealing with the standard interruptions caused by parenting young children back in my 30s.

But a few months ago, in mid-September, insomnia attacked. With a vengeance.

At first, I’d just wake up in the middle of the night and lie awake for hours. My sleep started feeling more and more fragmented. The problem finally progressed to nights when I literally couldn’t fall asleep at all, at any point, no matter how tired I felt. 

My Apple Watch tracks sleep (testing has shown that it actually does so with surprising accuracy) and that data verified what I felt: when I actually managed to sleep at all, I wasn’t dropping into the deeper stages of sleep our brains and bodies require to do the considerable housecleaning and rebuilding they do each night.

The whole thing hit a crescendo in October, when I started getting hit with stretches of two, three, even four back-to-back days with sub-five hours sleep each night, and in some cases, even less than three.

Sleep tracking image showing only four hours eight minutes of sleep out of seven hours in bed.
Sleep tracking from a particularly bad night in October.

Just to rub salt in the wound, I discovered an Apple Watch won’t even bother to track your sleep stages if you get less than three hours. At the end of one of those unspeakably awful nights I could practically hear my watch laughing at me. “Feh. Details schmetails. Why bother? You’re screwed and we both know it.”

Insomnia and recovery (or lack thereof)

How does all this relate to posting here on the blog? Well, I do have a full-time job, plus I train multiple times a week and have a spouse and all the other obligations of life.

Since starting this blog last year, early mornings have been my time to write and basically do everything else relating to the blog, the website, social media posts, strategy, trying to build a brand…. You get the idea. 

Normally I wouldn’t talk about my sleep problems here, and hopefully it doesn’t come across as complaining. I’m sharing because this is a menopause-related problem, and I’ve discovered in dealing with this that insomnia is a pervasive problem for those of us in that phase of life. As many as 60% of perimenopausal and menopausal women suffer from insomnia or disordered sleep.

Plus, being a strength athlete adds a huge additional dimension to the issue. I know very well that the lack of sleep is impeding my recovery, and therefore my gains. We need sleep in general, and we also need as much deeper sleep as possible, because that’s when our bodies repair and build muscle. My coach has been reluctant to even program heavy lifts due to concern about the increased potential for injury due to this lack of recovery . 

It’s bad enough not being able to sleep—in fact, it’s a form of torture I admit I never fully understood or viewed with sufficient sympathy until going through it myself.

But doing everything in your power to recover properly and still being unable to do so is a form of torture all its own. The whole thing creates an anxiety/stress spiral, which of course just contributes to the lack of recovery (our bodies don’t differentiate between physical and emotional stress) and makes it even harder to sleep. It’s almost like suffering with an injury or illness.

So yeah. Good times.

Silver linings

I’m still very much in combat mode, and I hesitate to say I’ve found reliable solutions, but I’ve started to make some good progress with a combination of hormone replacement therapy, which I started directly as a response to this problem (and which is helping) and a variety of supplements and behavior changes that support healthy sleep.

Just a few of the supplements now filling my cupboard.

There’s a silver lining here. My desperation has driven me to learn more than I ever wanted to learn about insomnia.

In my pursuit of answers, I’ve developed a better understanding of what can causes insomnia as we age, and especially in perimenopause and menopause; how those of us who strength train can compensate at least a bit for poor sleep; the mechanisms of menopause and how they interface with muscle preservation and gain; hormone replacement therapy…. and I could probably open a business reselling all of the supplements I’ve been researching and trying.

This means I can pass what I’ve been learning along to you. Even if these issues don’t directly affect you now (and hopefully they never will), you probably know more than one person they DO affect: your mother, grandmother, other family members or friends. And not to take anything away from the men: plenty of you suffer with this as well.

That’s the brutal truth here: age-related sleep disorders affect everyone, and then on top of that, menopause can create a double-whammy for older women.

One overarching thing I’ve learned is that, like strength training, this is an area where far too little research has been done and far too many of us are suffering in ways we might be able to avoid, or at least mitigate, with more information and understanding.  

So I will share what I’m learning, I promise!

For now, though, I just felt that I owed you an explanation, and some context. 

I’m hoping the improvements to my sleep in recent days and weeks will turn out to be lasting and consistent, so I can get back to a more regular posting schedule here, and start working on some exciting things I want to develop and launch in 2024. 

In the meantime, whatever it takes, I’ll be back with more posts related to this topic and related ones as well, so we can all go down this rabbit hole together.

Do you suffer from insomnia, whether age/menopause-related or otherwise? Whether you want to share thoughts and experiences, ask questions I can try to answer, or simply vent to an understanding earit’s all invited, and very welcome. Drop a comment below, or email me!

Note: You should consult your physician or other health care professional before using any medication or supplement. This site offers health, fitness and nutritional information and is designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional. Do not disregard, avoid or delay obtaining medical or health related advice from your health-care professional because of something you may have read on this site. The use of any information provided on this site is solely at your own risk.

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5 Comments

  1. Sorry to hear about your sleep issue Miriam. A question that crossed my mind: Did you sleep well in the past while wearing your Apple Watch? Does having a Apple Watch on all night make you think about your sleep more than not having it on?

    • Thanks, Jim, I appreciate it. It’s a great question, because sleep tracking can definitely cause more harm than good in some cases! But yes, I actually was sleeping very well for months after I started tracking. In fact, having the watch helped me identify that I wasn’t getting as much deep sleep as was ideal, and I took some steps in response that actually increased it… which is what makes the insomnia even more frustrating. It came on like a thunderclap, and it seems pretty clear based on some other stuff that it’s the direct result of hormonal changes as I’ve finally hit actual menopause (vs being in perimenopause). I never knew how closely tied estrogen and progesterone levels are both to serotonin and melatonin production and to the number of receptors for those neurotransmitters. (Which is also why many women suffer anxiety and depression at this stage – thankfully I’ve avoided those, at least so far.)

  2. eBiagini

    I absolutely have suffered from lack of sleep since menopause….and got very frustrated when my lifting suffered. I do take melatonin but it seemed like i needed more and more to make it work AND it helps me fall asleep but not stay asleep (even the time-released). I use L-Threonate and Lion’s Mane as well as Bosweilla. I still endure nights of NO REM sleep.

    • So frustrating! Since starting progesterone as part of HRT I’m doing better with falling asleep (I take L-tryptophan, magnesium, taurine, and ashwagandha along with the progesterone) and thus far melatonin helps me get back to sleep when I wake up in the middle of the night. But I’ve also observed that things that work for a while don’t always keep working, so it always feels like a crap shoot!! Have you experimented with supplements that support REM sleep?

  3. Ksells

    I too have battled the insomnia monster. I grow my own cannabis and make my own edibles. I live in California so it is legal. I probably use it 2-3 times a week. It enables me to sleep soundly all night. Such a blessing!

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