7 Sleep Tips for Women Over 40 (and Why Insomnia Gets Worse as We Age)
When you were 20, you could chug a double latte at 9 p.m., sleep through your alarm and wake up at noon. But now that you’re over 40, your relationship with sleep has gotten a lot more…dysfunctional. If it takes you an hour to fall asleep, you’re up at least twice to pee, and at three a.m., you’re just up for no reason. Friends, if this is you, you’re not alone.
Unfortunately, because of a gradual buildup of the protein beta amyloid in the brain, the quality of the sleep we get declines as we get older, according to sleep scientist Matthew Walker, the author of Why We Sleep. “The brain is not capable of generating that sleep which it still needs and the body still needs,” he explained on Fresh Air. But while the decline may begin in your forties, it isn’t over yet. “By the time you're in your fifties, you've perhaps lost almost 40 to 50 percent of that deep sleep that you were having, for example, when you were a teenager. By age 70, you may have lost almost 90 percent of that deep sleep.” Eep.
So, what do we do about it? While we obviously can’t stop aging (well, unless you’re Kerry Washington), there are a few sleep specialist-approved ways women over forty can fall asleep faster…and actually stay asleep.
1. Give Yourself a ‘Last Call’ on Liquids
You know it’s important to stay hydrated. But if you’re waking up multiple times a night to pee, it’s time to set a curfew for your bladder. “As women get older, pelvic floor muscles weaken and vaginal tissue thins causing difficulty controlling urinary urges at night,” Dr. Joshua Tal, Sleep Advisor to Idle Group tells us. He recommends that women over forty stop drinking liquids about two hours before bedtime. While caffeine and alcohol can be especially disruptive to sleep, even water can cause middle-of-the-night wakeups that can disrupt your sleep cycles.
2. Turn the Thermostat Down (Like, Much Lower Than You Think)
Hey, you, with your bedroom temperature set for 74 degrees. The balmy atmosphere in your room might be messing with your slumber. “Your body needs to drop its temperature to initiate sleep, and it's the reason it's always easier to fall asleep in a room that's too cold than too hot,” Walker says. He recommends setting your thermostat between (yes) 65 and 68 degrees to get the best night of sleep. (If that sounds ridiculously freezing to you, he doesn’t mention anything about bundling up under a huge comforter and wearing flannel PJs.)
3. Get Out of Your Head
Ever heard of the invisible workload? If you have a spouse, kids, a job, aging relatives or all of the above, chances are, you spend time before bed organizing you thoughts. (And by “organizing,” we mean making a thousand mental to-do lists, trying to figure out what to pack for the kids’ lunches tomorrow, dissecting that weird call with your boss and brainstorming what to get your mom for her birthday in three months. This is called “emotional labor.”) “Many of my female clients over 40 tell me that once they get into bed, their mind races through their to-do lists to review the successes and failures of the day or to prepare for tomorrow,” says Dr. Tal. Yep. That sounds familiar. The problem? You’re now associating your bed with work instead of sleep. Dr. Tal suggests getting out of bed and briefly writing all of your worries down in order to clear your mind.
4. Give Melatonin a Shot
If you have chronic sleep issues, your first instinct might be to ask your doctor for a prescription sleep aid. But Walker notes that sleep aids don’t technically help you sleep. They are sedatives, so while you will spend the night sedated, it isn’t actually helping you achieve the rest you need. For older patients who have a weaker natural release of melatonin, Walker notes that taking melatonin supplements could help. While not technically a sleep aid, melatonin is a supplement that is designed to help you regulate your sleep’s timing. “There are a whole set of different chemicals and brain mechanisms that actually generate sleep and get you into sleep,” walker says. “Melatonin simply times when sleep is going to occur, not the generation of sleep itself.” Still, it’s worth a shot if you’ve felt your quality of sleep decline over the years.
5. Pay Attention to Your Nose
If you’re like us, you wake up most mornings feeling like your nose is packed with cement, especially during the winter. “Laying down horizontally increases blood flow and mucus to the nose, causing discomfort and disturbed sleep,” Dr. Tal explains. “Setting up a humidifier at night can help with this issue, but make sure to keep it clean so it is not circulating mold and mildew.” If you’re still having congestion issues, he suggests swapping out your current mattress with a hypoallergenic mattress made with organic materials, like the Eden Mattress.
6. Do a Sleep Hygiene Audit
You spend seven hours in bed, but are you really getting the highest quality sleep you possibly can? It’s time to conduct a sleep audit, suggests behavioral sleep medicine specialist Dr. Lisa Medalie, PsyD, CBSM. Do you have heavy blackout shades on the windows? Do you sleep in comfy, breathable PJs? Could there be any noise from the street or the apartment above you that could be waking you up? Next, analyze your bedtime routine. Did you watch TV or check email before bed? Drink a glass of wine? Eat something with chocolate? Any of these seemingly harmless habits could be keeping you awake.
7. Try Square Breathing
you need to help you relax into a deep sleep. When we’re having one of those “tossing and turning” nights, we try square breathing. Basically, you breathe in and out using your diaphragm, for counts of four:
- Inhale through your nose for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
- Hold your breath for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
- Exhale through your mouth for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
- Pause and hold for a count of four (1, 2, 3, 4)
- Repeat as necessary until you drift off into dreamland