When I was assigned a story on sleepy women, I thought, "Aha, here's a story I know a ton about." As a new mom with an 11-month-old, my sleep – or lack thereof – is a big topic of conversation. "How was the night?," my husband will often ask, which means how many times did our little one wake up overnight.
So, I expected new moms or mothers-to-be to face the biggest sleep problems. After all, just think of those scenes involving new mom Miranda on "Sex and the City." "Oh, no sleep again," Carrie asks. "Actually, it was a good night," says Miranda. "I got a whole hour."
But according to a new poll by the National Sleep Foundation, while new moms and pregnant women are suffering, they are not suffering the most. Yes, more pregnant and post partum women experience insomnia a few nights each week than other age groups but when it comes to sleep disorders, such as snoring, restless leg syndrome and sleep apnea, a condition characterized by difficulty breathing, post-menopausal women are having the hardest time. 50% of post-menopausal women, more than any other women's age group, said they experienced a sleep disorder, according to the poll. Six out of ten women in this group said they battled insomnia.
Women like Pat Wands, a 59-year-old mother of three and grandmother of five who we profiled for our story. She kindly allowed us to place a camera in her bedroom and another hand-held camera in a separate bedroom so we could record what happened to her overnight.
"Here I am, it's about 3:30, I don't want to disturb my husband anymore, so I'm going to read for a few minutes in this room and try to go back to sleep," she said into the camera, recording her very own overnight video diary.
Pat's insomnia began about 14 years ago during menopause. She says while reading helps, the radio and talk shows like "The Joy Browne Show" have become her overnight best friends. "I even used some of her tips in dealing with my kids when they were going through college and that kind of thing," she said with a smile. I joked, "Had you been sleeping, those teenage years would have been so difficult."
All kidding aside, sleep problems during and after menopause are serious for many women. According to the poll, 41% of post-menopausal women said they use a sleep aid at least a few nights a week, more than any other women's age group.
The question we set out to answer is why – why are there so many sleep problems during menopause. Dr. Gary Zammit, who runs a sleep clinic in New York City, says changes in female hormone levels and greater stress and depression during menopause may be to blame. But he conceded the exact cause is unknown. "We still don't have a one to one linkage yet," Zammit told me. "Maybe someday."
Maybe before I pass through menopause… a girl can hope, can't she?!