The Illusive Gift of Sleep in Midlife and Beyond
Just as good quality sleep becomes more crucial to health in our 40s, 50s
and beyond, it also can become harder to come by for many women.
Melatonin, which makes you sleepy, goes up at night. When you're young, it rises to 8-10 times higher than daytime levels. Production declines with age to the extent that levels in the elderly rise only (and briefly) to twice the daytime level.
Estrogen plummets after menopause, throwing a monkey wrench into circadian rhythms. Two other neurochemicals, galanin which promotes sleep, and orexin which promotes wakefulness, get out of whack as you get older. Daytime activity level often drops as we get older which can affect restful sleep.
What to do about it?
Move, move, move. Moderate to (safely) intense aerobic and resistance training can help sleep quality. Aim for 150 minutes a week total.
Take melatonin. The Mayo Clinic recommends 0.1- 5 mg of over-the-counter melatonin two hours before bedtime, which may help restore your sleep/wake cycle.
Take a hot body bath or foot bath right before bed; as your body cools down, you'll get sleepy.
Get more sunshine. Daylight helps sort out your circadian rhythms.
Cool the room. People sleep more deeply when the thermostat is set between 65 and 69.
Avoid blue lights an hour before bedtime. Shut down computers, phones and TV.
Have a bedtime routine. There is a reason we do this with children. It works! Do the same things every night as you wind down to train your system that it's lights-out!
If you're not sleeping, get up so you don't start associating your bed with wakefulness.