When did sleep become so elusive? I remember when my head hit the pillow and I woke up 7 hours later, bouncing out of bed. Nowadays is more of a “You can't be serious it’s the morning!” and there is rarely a bounce now. Well, I’m 44 and I guess this comes with the territory. The dreaded changes have arrived and good sleep departed … I was determined to find out WHY do women in midlife sleep poorly and my research led me to many different reasons for disrupted or never-arriving sleep.
Are you ready for some hard truths? Warning - you might find out information you’d rather not know. Spoiler alert - alcohol is not that good for your sleep :)
Your liver is doing some major housework overnight. Between 2-4 am, to be precise. Your body literally goes to the spa for a deluxe treatment, being rejuvenated, cleansed and repaired. If you wake up between 2-4am, your body has not had the opportunity to recover and repair and you will be in high cortisol state.
The liver ages as we age. Did you know that our liver function diminishes by 40% by the time we reach menopause??? 40%!! Imagine how hard the liver has to work to get all the jobs done. Our diets, toxins we consume and are exposed to, alcohol are all loading the liver. Making it harder for it to do its work. The liver then becomes inflamed and overloaded. What is scary is that once the liver becomes overloaded (and inflamed) by breaking down compounds like lots of fats, toxins and alcohol, it won’t perform the routine tasks that keep our bodies functioning well. Which leads to … you guessed it - bad sleep!
But exercise is good for us, right Jana? Well, yes it is but only the RIGHT type of exercise. Exercise increases cortisol in our bodies. This is the hormone responsible for the fight and flight response, or our action mode. This is normally a temporary state in an optimally functioning body. In our ageing and already stressed bodies, this extra cortisol from exercise will plunge us deeper into cortisol dominant state permanently.
You probably heard that most hormones have another hormone paired up which acts in a see-saw effect. Meaning when one is up, the other goes down. Guess which hormone works synergistically with cortisol …. drum roll …. melatonin! Yes, our sleep hormone. The hormone that makes us feel drowsy in the evenings and helps us fall asleep. So when you hit the gym for an intense workout in the evening, you will create a whole bunch of cortisol and melatonin will stay low. Meaning … yes, you guessed it - poor sleep.
You are probably thinking that I will tell you to give up your evening glass of wine. The one thing that helps you relax. I think you already know that alcohol does not induce good slumber. Alcohol is a toxin and it will load your liver (bummer!). We have already talked about the liver and how hard it needs to work to do all the housekeeping for you. Another thing about alcohol is that it is thermogenic, or heat producing. And do you know what I also found out? Our body temperature is at its highest around 7pm, right about the time you might be enjoying that glass of wine, magnifying the heat producing effects.
Now I don’t have night sweats or hot flushes but many women in midlife do. Being hot and drenched in sweat at night does not promote good sleep. If you find yourself waking up drenched in sweat in the middle of the night, it might be time to rethink that nightcap.
That’s a no brainer, right? We all know that coffee is a stimulant. It gives us that nice kick in the mornings. It feels nice to share one with a friend. But (of yes, there is a but) that yummy flat white stays in your system for 7 hours! Try to only drink coffee in the mornings so your body has enough time to break down the caffeine.
I have always struggled with the fact that I am addicted to coffee. Without it, I get headaches and feel a bit off. I listened to an interview just yesterday and they were talking about coffee addiction. Their opinion was that it is a harmless addiction, it is not going to ruin you financially and it is only affecting you (well unless your partner doesn’t hand you that freshly brewed gold swiftly enough in the mornings).
Now you are thinking I’m going to suggest you give up the evening Facebook scrolling once the kids are in bed. You probably already know that being exposed to blue light from computers, phones and tablets will disturb your sleep. It stimulates your adrenal glands (and possibly your emotions if you are reading the news). Experts recommend stopping screen time at least two hours before sleep. Maybe pick up an old fashioned book instead?
Eating animal protein at dinner time
Yes, you heard right. I am going to suggest that you swap the rare steak for roasted vegetable salad. Meat and other animal proteins are thermogenic, meaning they produce heat while being digested. If you are a woman experiencing hot flushes and night sweats as you are entering menopause, you can improve these by eating lighter meals at dinner, without animal protein.
We all know stress is bad for us. It upsets our hormonal balance, exhausts our adrenal glands, causes inflammation in the body and mental health problems. Stress can come in so many forms, not only the psychological stress of work demands and troublesome teenagers. Ageing itself is a stress on the body. Eating too little is another one or exercising too much. We are literally being bombarded by stressors all day long. This can bode very badly for us, especially in midlife. I have already talked about the cortisol dominant state most of us live in. See if you can introduce activities into your life that bring you peace, joy and reduce your stress. Walking, gardening, yoga, meditation, cooking … whatever it is that brings you a sense of calm, do it. And do it daily.
The world could be an ugly place if you are stumbling around sleep deprived. Everything becomes more difficult and challenging. Permanent lack of sleep will bring an array of health issues eventually. I know from experience that it is not always so easy to stick to good sleep hygiene. I have caught myself scrolling Facebook late at night. I, on occasion, also get sucked into a good Netflix TV show and sacrifice my sleep. It’s never a good idea!! And I always regret it in the morning.
So there you have it, the 7 biggest reasons that might be stopping you from getting a great sleep. I hope you get a solid 8 hours of peaceful slumber soon. Thank you for reading and do email me if you have any questions or comments. Jana x