None of us like having poor sleep. Over 50 it makes us feel slow, dreary, and low on energy all day. We want to feel vibrant and rested. Sleep helps improve concentration and memory formation. It helps repair cell damage, and refreshes the immune system, which helps to prevent disease.
Yet poor sleep is a major problem for women over 50. If you’re having a sleep problem, review these possible causes to see what you can do.
1. The Last Glass of Wine
You thought it would relax you and make you drowsy. While that glass of wine at night may help you doze off, alcohol disrupts sleep and leads to a poorer night’s rest. Alcohol disrupts the body’s internal timer and triggers insomnia. Bedtime alcohol does initially induce sleep, but leads to poorer quality rest. Drinking alcohol interferes with sleep homeostasis – the body’s internal timer that regulates sleeping and waking. It also relaxes respiratory muscles and starts to suppress breathing halfway through the night. This makes it difficult to reach REM, the deep sleep stage, which should occupy around 20% of total sleeping hours each night.
“Stop drinking at least an hour before you go to sleep,” says study author Irshaad Ebrahim, PhD, a neuropsychiatrist and researcher at the London Sleep Centre. Women are often advised to limit alcohol to one or two drinks in any case.
2. Avoiding Exercise
You don’t need to run 5 miles a day to sleep well, but exercising 30-45 minutes during the day or early evening helped insomniacs enjoy better (and somewhat longer) sleep. According to Sleep.org, even as little as 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can dramatically improve the quality of your nighttime sleep – especially when done on a regular basis.
3. Too Much Light
When you were a kid, you could probably sleep soundly in a brightly lit room. Not anymore. Over 50, eyelids begin to thin and we need real darkness to sleep well.
The blue light of our various electronic devices is especially harmful for sleep. Scientific American reports, “We have known for quite awhile now that light is the most powerful cue for shifting the phase or resetting the time of the circadian clock.”
“It’s important to eliminate the blue light from your phone, tablet, computer, or TV. It’s especially disruptive. Participants who read on light-emitting devices took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep (the phase when we dream) and had higher alertness before bedtime [than those people who read printed books].”
Create a darker sleeping environment at home with blackout shades or curtains, or wear a sleep mask. A sleep mask is definitely important when you’re traveling and can’t control your sleep surroundings. Turn off the television and personal devices as well.
Purchase a quality sleep mask, even when traveling, as the flimsy styles available on airlines aren’t as effective.
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4. Disturbing Noises
Our environments have become noisier. Whether it’s noise from inside the house such as family, pets and televisions, or neighborhood traffic, car alarms and garbage pick ups, you’re probably sensitive to it disrupting your sleep.
We live in much noisier environments today, and noise machines have become very popular as a way to mask the disruptions.
Some people prefer white noise via a soothing sound machine.
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Ear plugs are another aid to a quieter night.
This contoured style is an easier fit for female ears. Be sure to roll them tightly to make them more compact, and insert.
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5. Night Sweats
The Mayo Clinic reports a great variety of causes for this disturbing problem. Most women are aware that they can occur around menopause, but there are many other causes.
Mayo Clinic says it’s a good idea to discuss night sweats with a doctor if they
- Occur on a regular basis
- Interrupt your sleep
- Are accompanied by a fever or other symptoms, such as unexplained weight loss
6. Changing Sleep Schedule
Your body uses Arcadian rhythms to signal when it is time to go to sleep or wake up. This tends to occur at regular times every day. Among other factors, your clock is “set” by your exposure to sunlight. Flying across time zones or working a night shift are difficult on the internal rhythms. Even changing bedtimes between weekends and work days can be a problem.
The Sleep Council advises, “Keep regular hours: Go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. Keeping to a routine helps your biological clock.”
Shift work is the most difficult but any changes in schedules can effect body temperature, alertness, sleepiness, hunger and hormone levels. The UCLA Sleep Disorders Center has done extensive work on the issue and has listed the best ways to cope with changing schedules.
7. Late Workout
Some people find it difficult to calm down from evening exercise, as reported on CNN. Dr. Stuart Quan, the Gerald E. McGinnis professor of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School says that those people should be wary of working out too close to bedtime. “Their adrenaline is high, their brain is active, and it’s difficult to wind down.”
“Sleep experts recommend exercising at least three hours before bedtime, and the best time is usually late afternoon. Exercising at this time is beneficial because body temperature is related to sleep. Body temperatures rise during exercise and take as long as 6 hours to begin to drop. Because cooler body temperatures are associated with sleep onset, it’s important to allow the body time to cool off before sleep,” says The Sleep Foundation.
8. Electronic Devices
Our devices are more of a problem than we realize. See how technology effects your sleep in so many different ways.
Turn off your mobile phone and anything with an LED display (including clocks). Careful studies have shown that even our small electronic devices emit sufficient light to miscue the brain and promote wakefulness.
“Use of a light-emitting electronic device (LE-eBook) in the hours before bedtime can adversely impact overall health, alertness, and the circadian clock which synchronizes the daily rhythm of sleep to external environmental time cues, according to new research that compared the biological effects of reading an LE-eBook compared to a printed book,” reports Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Science Daily
9. Lack of Sunlight
While artificial blue light, is harmful, natural light is very helpful. “Bright sunlight helps regulate melatonin and your sleep-wake cycles. Try to get at least two hours of sunlight a day. Keep shades open during the day or use a light therapy box,” advises HelpGuide.org.
10. Watching the News
It’s not only the blue light from the television or iPads that disturbs sleep. Violence in newspapers or on television can bother people, making it difficult to wind down. Avoid troubling news close to bedtime. Try reading a book instead, advises The London Sleep Centre.
Experts advise no stimulants or drinks that contain caffeine (tea, coffee, cola etc.) 6 hours before bedtime. The National Sleep Foundation reports the effects of caffeine can cause problems falling asleep as much as 10-12 hours later.
12. A Long Nap
You were tired from lack of sleep, so of course you wanted a nap. However, the Sleep Council warns “If you need a nap, don’t take longer than 30 minutes.”
13. Sleep Apnea
The Mayo Clinic says watch for signs that you snore loudly, and you feel tired even after a full night’s sleep. It’s a potentially harmful condition in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts during sleep. There are several different types but it’s important to see a doctor, as sleep apnea can affect the heart in addition to making you fatigued.
While it’s more common among men, women can have it also. The Mayo Clinic explains, “Be sure to talk to your doctor if you experience loud snoring, especially snoring that’s punctuated by periods of silence.” If a woman’s partner has sleep apnea, it can cause poor sleep for her as well.