Editor’s Note: We’re proud to report that this essay on hot flashes and heat recently won honors in an annual humor-writing contest sponsored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Someone feels our pain!
How often do you wake up sweaty and exhausted after thrashing about all night trying to get comfortable? Welcome to summer, Ladies. Pardon me while I adjust the thermostat and collapse under a ceiling fan.
Earlier in our lives, my husband complained that I was always either hot or cold and had only a two-degree range of comfort. Since menopause, I’m down to about half a degree on a good day. It’s much worse at night. I’m pretty sure that at some point in human history there was a Faustian bargain to trade female fertility for insomnia and night sweats. No wonder I’m in hell.
My husband sleeps like a baby. Is it any wonder I watch crime shows in which the wife plots revenge?
The nightly games commence after I’ve finally managed to fall asleep. My bladder is as old as the rest of me, so there are usually two bathroom visits per night. As soon as I get up, the dog maneuvers into my spot and heats the pillow and sheets by at least 10 degrees. By the time I muscle my way back onto the mattress, it takes me another 30 minutes to figure out whether I need a light blanket, sheet, or maybe just socks. The ceiling fan would provide relief, but turning it on full-blast startles the hubby who then makes rude comments about sleeping under a military chopper.
My next step is to flip the pillow once or twice or 47 times to find the cold side. There is no cold side. There wasn’t a cold side before the dog sat on it, but now there never will be. No matter, though, because the pillow smells like someone needs a bath after rolling around in the backyard.
Into the Wee Hours
The next hour is spent valiantly trying and failing to get comfortable. One leg outside the blanket to cool off, Oops, too much, yank it back. One knee out, Nope, not enough, followed by the opposite shoulder, then both hands, an elbow, and one pinky toe. A casual onlooker would mistake these fitful bursts for a game of hokey-pokey gone horribly awry, but with wet sheets, foul moods, and perhaps an impending psychotic break.
My next step is to flip the pillow once or twice or 47 times to find the cold side.
I remain optimistic that some combination of airflow and exposed appendages will satisfy my moody post-menopausal thermostat, but the magic formula eludes me. Meanwhile, I pray to pass out from all the flailing, although, truth be told, a meteor strike might be more merciful.
My husband, by the way, sleeps like a baby and snores like a lumberjack through my nocturnal spasms. After enjoying a jumbo mug of dark-roast coffee, he slumps face-down into REM sleep. Is it any wonder I watch crime shows in which the wife plots revenge?
The Daytime Trials
During the daytime, I achieve comfort by constantly varying sleeve lengths, pant lengths, socks, ceiling fans, thermostats, air conditioners, and cold beverages. Thankfully, I do not suffer from severe hot flashes, but I empathize. When I see a middle-aged woman climb into an upright freezer at the grocery store, I don’t ask her to pass the ice cream. I give her a fist-bump of solidarity and implore male shoppers to move along.
In an office setting, keeping cool is trickier because nudity is frowned upon, even on Casual Fridays.
In an office setting, keeping cool is trickier because others have access to the thermostat and nudity is frowned on even on Casual Fridays. I settle for barging into a coworker’s office, commandeering his floor fan, and directing the airflow straight up the inside of my shirt to my face and armpits. Fearing that I might begin writhing and moaning, he quickly offered, “You know, they’re $25 on Amazon. You should get one.”
So I headed to the website and found it was fun to shop for fans. I got to choose from models called Tornado, TurboForce, and Blizzard. I briefly got my hopes up for a snow-making machine.
I’ll Show You Glowing
The Facebook algorithm has noticed my predicament and filled my newsfeed with ads for personal thermostats. Have you heard of these? Claiming that “one-third of the world is thermally underserved,” these wristband-thermostats deliver five degrees of cooling directly to the wearer’s wrist. According to their website, the company was started by three MIT grads named Matt, Dave, and Sam, who, I’m guessing, were inspired by wives or moms named Sweaty, Grouchy, and Volatile. Product demand must be brisk because the $300 device is already backordered.
According to an old saying, “horses sweat, men perspire, and ladies glow.” Lovely. You know what else glows? Plutonium, poisonous jellyfish, and red-hot lava. Perhaps there’s a lesson in that. If a woman in your family or workplace glows this summer, remain calm and back away slowly from the thermostat. She probably had a very rough night.
A version of this article was originally published in June 2019.