It’s 2:30 in the afternoon. The buzz from your morning cup of coffee has long worn off and you’re feeling that familiar sense of heaviness and lack of motivation and oh so sleepy. 😫💤
You’re mentally calculating how many more hours you need to “on” today and whether another jolt of caffeine or sugar will get you through it – and at the same time, wondering if it really what’s keeping you from sleeping better at night. You justify your choice to have an iced tea (at least there aren’t any calories, right?) and figure the glass of wine or two you’ll have with dinner later will calm you down and even things out.
You fall asleep on the couch watching TV after dinner, grateful for whatever rest you can get after so many nights of being wide awake at 3am for hours; falling back into a deep sleep minutes before the alarm goes off.
Sound familiar?? You are not alone.
Research shows that 20-40 percent of women report sleep disturbances; and at midlife and beyond, that percentage jumps as high as 60 percent! There are some deep effects that come from lack of sleep due to insomnia or night sweats that are so common for women over 50.
Insufficient sleep increases your stress hormones (corticosteroids and catecholamines) and throws off your hormone balance, which is already going through a lot of fluctuations due to menopause or natural age-related shifts. When you’re sleep deprived, your brain gets less glucose which translates to about 6% less available energy. That may not seem like a lot – yet considering the lower energy supply primarily affects the prefrontal cortex responsible for decision making and distinguishing from right and wrong, the repercussions can be much larger.
Night sweats or hot flashes can cause profound interruptions in your sleep cycle as well as prevent you from getting the prolonged R.E.M. (rapid eye movement) cycle of sleep needed to rejuvenate and reset your systems. Night sweats are caused by erratic estrogen levels or an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone. Progesterone has a calming effect on the central nervous system. And then there’s the inversely related stress/sleep hormones – cortisol, the “fight or flight” hormone and melatonin, which regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Cortisol should be at its peak between 6-8am and then gradually decline as the day goes on and bottom out in the evening. When your cortisol levels are elevated in the evening because of stress, hormone imbalances or diet choices, it throws off the production of melatonin because when one is up, the other is down, thus throwing off your sleep and wake rhythms.
According to Shawn Stevenson, author of Sleep Smarter: 21 Essential Strategies to Sleep Your Way to a Better Body, Better Health and Bigger Success, states that the quality of your sleep begins the moment you wake up in the morning. Here’s some tips for better sleep that I honed from his book and my own experiences that may help you.
✨ Reset Your Cortisol Levels- Five to ten minutes of exercise first thing in the morning will send the signals to your body to up your cortisol levels when you need it the most. Meditation in the morning is also a way to fall asleep more quickly at night. After an 8-week steady meditation practice in the morning, research participants reported an increase in their total sleep time, they woke up less frequently, improved their sleep cycles and lowered their levels of depression.
✨ Create a Sleep Sanctuary- your bed is only for sleep and sex, nothing else. Create the proper environment for sleep- a comfortable bed, plenty of darkness, the right temperature, soothing colors and as little noise as possible. Try ear plugs or white noise devices if you are challenged by a snoring partner or a noisy home.
✨ Implement a Screen Curfew- it’s best to be off all of your devices, including television at least 90 minutes before bed. If you need to be on less than 90 minutes before sleep, use the night shift filter to avoid the blue light spectrum that emits from your phone or tablet. Harvard researchers found that using your tech devices an hour before bed can blunt your melatonin secretions for about three hours. The light can actually produce more cortisol- not what you want before sleep!
✨ Mind Your Thoughts- avoid emotionally stressful discussions or TV shows. Put your worries to bed by journaling or writing a to-do list for the next day. Turn it all over to a higher power and empty your mind. There are also many guided meditations to listen to to shift your thoughts to more positive affirmation and help you drift off to sleep. I created a Yoga Nidra sleep meditation audio that can help. Download it for free here.
✨ Make Wise Choices for Your Body- avoid strenuous exercise in the evenings as the boost in body temperature and stimulation of your muscles can keep you awake. Stop eating a few hours before bed, or at least avoid going to bed on a full stomach. And don’t be tempted to drink alcohol to to help you sleep as the spike in blood sugar can keep you tossing and turning. I take a magnesium/calcium blend before bed to relax my muscles and calm my nerves. I also enjoy a warm Epsom salt bath with lavender essential oils.
Your sleep issues may need more intervention than these tips alone (consult your health care professional about your concerns). Yet, the difference some small changes in habits will make to your sleep quality can get you feeling more vibrant and rested and ready to take on your life in the way you want.
The more educated you are about the reasons for your poor sleep, the better choices you can make for yourself– and those smart decisions teach you how to value yourself more. Isn’t it worth it to make some small sacrifices to increase the quality of your life?
Sweet Dreams! ⭐🌛
Beth Nelson is an inspiration and leader for women who are ready to awaken into the fullest version of themselves at midlife and leave a meaningful impact on the world. As a Women’s Midlife Mentor, confused and disengaged women in their 50s and 60s hire her to build the necessary confidence to reinvent themselves and create a life full of passion, purpose and authenticity.