As we grow older, our sleeping patterns change. This won’t come as a surprise to most people - our circadian rhythms regularly shift throughout our lifetimes, from infancy to adulthood. But for women approaching middle-age, there are many factors at play that can affect how well you sleep. You might remember staying up late as a teenager and sleeping until noon the next day; these days, you’re probably tucked up in bed by 10pm.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults should try to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. But for those growing older, that number drops to 7-8. This might not seem like much of a difference, but as middle-age approaches, you might start to wake up in the night. This shortens your overall time spent asleep.
With hormonal changes to contend with, women will find this period in their lives an especially difficult time to nod off. Here are five reasons why you might be struggling to get a good night’s sleep.
1) Your internal clock has shifted. In our teenage years, we don’t feel the need to sleep until much later on in the night. But as you grow older, new circadian rhythms kick in, and you tend to start feeling tired earlier on. This means that you might start to feel more alert in the mornings, which can come as a surprise to former night owls.
2) You’re waking up in the night. When we get older, we become much lighter sleepers. This is because our brain waves no longer reach the same heights they used to. These high spikes make sure we slip into a deep, restorative slumber – but when our brain waves don’t climb high enough, we turn into light sleepers. As a result, people find themselves waking up frequently in the night. This problem is made even worse if your partner snores, or uses the bathroom a lot. If snoring is an issue that disturbs your sleep, you can find more information about solutions on the Products tab above.
3) You have a sleep disorder. Sleep apnoea is a frustrating condition that many people are completely unaware they suffer from. If you have a good bedtime routine, but still find yourself nodding off during the day, sleep-disordered breathing could be to blame. A decrease in your throat’s muscle tone often accompanies ageing, and this can make it harder for your airway to stay open while you sleep (causing you to snore). In some cases, the airway becomes so narrow that the walls stick together and close up. This usually happens for 10-30 seconds, but can happen for longer. When the airway finally opens up again, you’ll make a loud, violent snore. This is known as an apnoea. Because your body has to constantly wake itself up in order for you to breathe, you’ll spend the next day feeling tired and unrefreshed. If you suspect you have sleep apnoea, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. In the meantime, you can find more information on sleep apnoea on the tab above titled Do I Have Sleep Apnoea?
4) The menopause is kicking in. Hot flashes can be your worst enemy when you’re trying to get a good night’s sleep. As well as not being able to regulate your body temperature, sleep-disturbing mood disorders and snoring can also crop up as a result of menopause. You’re more at risk of developing sleep apnoea too – estrogen and progesterone maintain your airway’s muscle tone and keep it from collapsing. As these hormone levels drop, the risk of sleep apnoea increases.
5) You’ve got Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). This is a neurological disorder that is frequently undiagnosed. If you’ve got RLS, you’ll experience a strange, restless feeling in your legs. This is followed by the uncontrollable urge to move your legs to get rid of the feeling. Lying down and trying to relax only makes the feeling worse, which is why it can stop you from getting a good night’s rest. The more this happens, the more likely you are to experience insomnia and daytime sleepiness.
Getting a healthy amount of sleep is important. If your problems persist, it’s time to talk to your doctor. Your sleep is well worth it.