MYTH: You Need Less Sleep as You Age
TRUTH: Even though people tend to sleep less as they age, the need for a good night’s rest does not diminish as you age.
You wake up and look in the mirror. You notice the color under your eyes seems darker. Your “Crow’s feet” are more pronounced. Your skin just doesn’t look as . . . Youthful.
It’s true, your skin changes with age.
And what about those other changes in the exterior of your body? Perhaps your muscle tone has diminished. Maybe you have a “muffin top” that wasn’t there ten years ago. It could be that your roots are gray. This is just some of what comes with the territory.
But what about the changes that are going on in the interior of your body?
You can’t see these changes. Yet they are important indicators of the biological aging process.
Loss of sleep can accelerate the aging process, on the inside as well as the outside.
Do You Have any “Bad” Habits that may be Causing You to Lose Sleep?
I’m going to share three common ones, you can see how you measure up. If you’d like to change one or more of them, I have some healthy, sleep-supporting behaviors that you can substitute. And finally, I’ll discuss how long it takes to break a bad habit and replace it with a new one. (Can you guess how long?)
What contributes to difficulties falling and staying asleep?
You’ll notice that many of the causes, are also conditions that make getting a good night’s sleep difficult. These are a few of the things that can disrupt sleep:
- Joint pain and muscle aches
- Elevated nighttime cortisol, caused by stress and Adrenal Dysfunction
- Certain medications
- Partner’s snoring and or sleep apnea
- Your snoring and or sleep apnea
- Decreased Production of Melatonin
- Menopausal night sweats
What are some of the potential consequences of loss of sleep?
- Weight Gain and Weight Loss Resistance. The hormones that regulate appetite can be affected by loss of sleep. Research shows that less sleep time is associated with decreases in leptin, the hormone that signals satiety to the brain and elevation in ghrelin, which stimulates hunger. Cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates tend to become an issue when you are sleep deprived.
- Cognitive decline, especially memory
- Chronic Pain
- Hormone imbalances, especially the Adrenal hormones
Accelerated Aging Seen in Just One Night of Partial Sleep Deprivation
Studies show that losing sleep causes your cells to age faster.¹ Not only does the body lose opportunity to repair itself, loss of sleep promotes the molecular and cellular processes that result in biological aging.
Three Habits to Change That Will Help You Get Better Sleep and Slow Aging:
1. Give Up Alcohol in the Evening
I know, you’ve had a massively stressful day. And your “second job” is just about to begin. After sorting through the mail, preparing dinner, washing the dishes, and doing a couple of loads of laundry, the thought of enjoying a nightcap sounds pretty darn good. But this can backfire on you. The problem with alcohol in the evening, is that you may find that you fall asleep easily but wake up in the middle of the night. This is because alcohol consumption causes an initial rise in your blood glucose which makes you sleepy. But within a few hours, blood glucose levels drop, which causes you to wake up. And for midlife women, a drink in the evening can make menopausal symptoms worse. In addition, many of the women I work with, report that even a very small glass of wine with dinner can cause an increase in the frequency and intensity of night sweats. Listen to your body. Notice whether avoiding alcohol in the evening, and perhaps foregoing a wine with dinner, improves your sleep.
What to do instead of having a nightcap:
- Take Magnesium, 300 – 500 mg. Best forms are Glycinate, Citrate, or Malate. (helps relax muscles and ease joint pain) Keep your bottle of Magnesium on the nightstand and take it with a cup of warm Chamomile tea.
- Take a soothing Epsom salts bath.
- I find that for some of the women I work with, a light snack with a small amount of starchy carbohydrate can help improve the quality of sleep. Several years ago after reading “Potatoes Not Prozac”, by Dr. Kathleen Des Maisons, I tried having a 2 – 3 ounce baked red potato at bedtime, it seems to work well for me. Other options are baked yams, cooked beets or sauteed plantains. You’ll need to experiment to see what works for you. This strategy may not be a good choice if you have Diabetes. Use your own good judgement or talk to your doctor.
2. Adjust Your Getting to Bed and Waking Up Times.
Some people notice a slight shift in their circadian rhythm as they age. You may notice that as you get older, you are ready to go to bed earlier and tend to naturally wake up a little earlier. If you don’t honor your body’s new pattern, you may have difficulty falling and remaining asleep.
Strategies to help you shift to an earlier bedtime:
- Talk to your family. You could let them know that, “I’m going to be “off duty” beginning at 8 pm Monday – Thursdays”.
- Establish a bedtime routine. Do a few gentle yoga poses. Take a warm bath. Try 5 minutes of deep breathing. Write in your gratitude journal. Sip on warm chamomile tea. Listen to relaxing music. Consider setting your phone alarm for 8:15, a reminder to begin your bedtime routine, then hit the hay by 9:00.
- Find new ways to enjoy the quiet early morning hours. Watch the sunrise. Sunlight, on exposed skin, without sunscreen, will increase your Vit D. Another benefit of sun exposure is that it stimulates the production of cortisol which helps you feel alert.
3. Avoid Blue Light.
Emitted by electronics and artificial lighting, blue light in the evening tricks the brain into thinking that it is daytime. This inhibits the production of melatonin which can result in poor sleep. Two hours before bedtime, turn off all the lights. Also, avoid using your computer, cell phone, tablets and other electronic devices during that time. If you want to read, use a reading lamp with an orange or red bulb. Candlelight in your home is a nice way to enjoy the final hours of your day.
If you chose to use your computer or other devices before bed, you should definitely get some protection for your eyes in place.
Wear Blue-Blocking Glasses.
If you are like me and require “readers”, you can wear blue-blocker over them. I find this cumbersome. So an option is to purchase reading glasses designed to block blue light. There are several options on Amazon. I’m planning to have a prescription pair made from LensCrafters soon.
The graph below is from a study on how exposure to three different types of light affected the production of melatonin in the evening. It shows that melatonin levels are similar in dim light or with blue-blocking glasses. And bright light almost completely suppressed melatonin production. Bad news if you want a good night’s sleep.
Apple devices have a built-in feature that filters blue light. It does this by shifting the colors on the display to the warmer end of the light spectrum. Go to settings, display & brightness and schedule Night Shift. I have mine automatically set from sunset to sunrise. For those of you who are Android users, I apologize, I’m doing my best just to stay abreast with Apple’s latest updates. Perhaps some of you are fortunate enough to have a tech-savvy grandchild to turn to for advice.
Bridging the Gap Between Knowing and Doing
When it comes to habits, change can be difficult. Why? Because your brain has put this “bad” behavior on auto-pilot, making the habit difficult to shake free from. In my work with women over 50, I find that they are extremely intelligent and diligent, but often way too hard on themselves. Most have a clear sense of what they’d like to change. But most of us, myself included, need to be patient when we are in the process of changing a habit. Changing a habit takes time.
It’s only Human to slip up
Even when you have good intentions, chances are during the process of change, you’ll get off track. Notice what type of stressors tend to be problematic so you can plan to deal with them accordingly. Seek progress not perfection. And remember, tomorrow is another day.
And the answer is . . . How Long Does it Really Take to Change?
You’ve probably heard the adage that says it takes 28 days to break a bad habit and replace it with a new behavior. Turns out that most of us will require around three months, according to current research.
Look forward to more tips from me on how to make your desired new healthy lifestyle habits a reality.There’s an art and science to behavior change. I’ll show you how to apply the strategies that incorporate the latest discoveries in the neuroscience of how habits form. When you incorporate mind-body wisdom with positive psychology, you’ll gain the edge you need. This will make change easier and you’ll enjoy new, helpful habits that last.
Do You Need Help Getting Better Sleep?
The chart above: http://press.endocrine.org/doi/full/10.1210/jc.2004-2062