Over 40 & Trouble Sleeping? Here's What a Hormone Expert Wants You To Know
You are exhausted. But, for some reason, instead of snoozing, you are lying awake worrying about the bills, family problems, and upcoming social events. Or maybe you are getting up several times to check on your kids? Sound familiar?
If so, you are not alone. According to a study by the National Sleep Foundation, over half of all Americans struggle at times to get a good night's sleep. There's an endless list of reasons we can't get to sleep at night, and for women there is an extra layer of complexity—hormonal changes. In fact, many women report night sweats that are so bad they can't sleep.
So what can we do about this? How do we solve the sleep riddle? As an OB/GYN and hormone expert, I am here to help.
Why aren't you sleeping well?
First things first! How come we're not sleeping well? Let's get to the bottom of that problem. For women who are menopausal and perimenopausal, estrogen and progesterone can fluctuate wildly as the body prepares to transition out of the reproductive years. These hormonal changes affect everything from stress levels and mood to body temperature and even your breathing. And, of course, you guessed it; it can also disrupt your circadian rhythm (the sleep-wake cycle). And symptoms can start as early as your mid-30s.
All of these disruptions mean most of us are just not getting enough sleep. When we do sleep, it may be restless sleep, during which we wake up several times. You may be one of those who wake up too early, then can't fall back to sleep. All day long, you feel sleepy, like you need to take a nap.
Sleep issues like this can eventually affect your overall health. You will have to deal with it at some point. And so I did. I sat down one day, took a deep breath, and said, "We're going to sort this sleep thing out so we can start getting a good night's rest again."
Once I made this a priority, I began to learn some important things about why we don't sleep well at night, and I discovered some great strategies for overcoming all those issues.
7 strategies for better sleep.
I've put together seven important things that I believe will help you get a good night's rest. I hope you'll try these and find the path back to the place where you can sleep soundly and get the rest you need every night:
1. Clean up your diet.
What we eat affects our sleep patterns. This is often overlooked, but there's real scientific data to back it up. If you're eating a lot of sugar, fats, and carbs in the evenings, you may not sleep as well. Once we combine a high-carb diet with other problems like restless leg syndrome, heart palpitations, and hot flashes, you can basically say goodbye to a good night's sleep.
The one thing that has helped me more than anything is my Keto-Green Diet. It's low in carbs, and that helps to balance blood sugar levels. As I'm sure you're aware, when our blood sugar levels are wildly fluctuating, it can mess with lots of different areas of our health, including sleep. That's why the Keto-Green diet is so helpful. It helps regulate hormone levels and even works to reset our circadian rhythm.
2. Try natural sleep aids.
There are lots of natural sleep aids on the market today. Some of them are not as healthy as others, so be sure to read the label so you can fully understand what you're about to put in your body. One of my favorites that I like to recommend to those who suffer from insomnia is bioidentical progesterone. This can also work well for hormone imbalances and mood issues. You can get this in oral form or as a cream applied to skin. You should see an improvement right away in your sleep patterns, as well as your overall temperament.
Sometimes I recommend 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a chemical byproduct of the protein building block L-tryptophan. It has lots of good usages, and patients have reported great results with few side effects. When taken orally, 5-HTP is converted into serotonin and then into melatonin. With higher melatonin levels, we see greater depth and quality of sleep. This is best taken on an empty stomach right before bedtime. Typical dosages range from 50 to 200 milligrams. Some patients take vitamin B6 along with 5-HTP and report better results.
In addition to this, you can take 1 to 3 milligrams of melatonin at around sundown each day. Patients do report that it works better when taken earlier in the evening as opposed to bedtime. Magnesium L-threonate is also a great supplement for restorative sleep.
3. Turn off all electronics by 9 p.m.
You've probably figured this one out on your own, but to truly disconnect from the day's stress and activities, it's important to turn off all your devices. This includes computers and smartphones. These devices have LED screens that are much brighter than what we see in everyday life. These bright lights can disrupt your circadian rhythm, melatonin production, and thus your sleep patterns. If you absolutely cannot do this, then I suggest an app called F.lux. This app reduces the blue light on your screen, and you can set it for specific preprogrammed times. F.lux can make your computer screen look like the time of day. For instance, if it's morning outside, it can mimic the light you'd normally see in the morning. Blue light tells our eyes that it isn't nighttime, so your body won't produce melatonin. There are other gadgets on the market, such as blue-light-blocking eyeglasses and blue-light-blocking screens for iPhones.
4. Cut out the stimulants.
Lots of people enjoy a glass of wine in the evening, and some will have tea or coffee with sugar. We all have our bad little habits we know are probably not helping when it comes to sleep. Though alcoholic beverages initially make you feel sleepy, the alcohol can disrupt your sleep cycles, especially REM (dreaming) sleep. All humans require that REM sleep in order to help us wake up feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
5. Pursue oxytocin-boosting activities.
Oxytocin is famous for being known as the "bonding" hormone. It is produced when we enjoy life. Isn't that simple? Hug your loved ones, play with your pets, laugh every day. Build some warm friendships. Enjoy sex and orgasms. All these tasks stimulate the release of oxytocin. This "bonding" hormone has a calming effect. It leaves you feeling tranquil and at peace with the world. When we feel loved and at peace, we elevate our quality of life and we improve our sleep patterns.
6. Create a sleep haven.
Your bedroom should be your own private retreat, a place where you can go and just relax. We all need a free space where we don't have to work, respond, or be anyone special. According to research, you can help to create that relaxing environment with just a few adjustments. Keep the room temp at a comfortable level (65°F). Once you're ready to turn in for the night, turn off all the lights. A super-dark room improves sleep and may help reduce hot flashes.
There's some controversy about using your bedroom for watching TV, working, and other activities. Many specialists recommend using it only for sleeping or lovemaking. Also, try to keep the clutter to a minimum. When your bedroom looks and feels like your own personal oasis, you'll sleep better. We all need a space that's ours alone.
7. Establish a healthy nighttime ritual.
Calming down after a busy day takes a bit of effort. Try to set up your own evening activities that relax you. Some of the most popular include chamomile tea, lavender essential oils, listening to relaxing music, and meditation. You can also try things like gently stretching your muscles or going for a short walk. Deep breathing and meditation help regulate hormones so they support all-natural rhythms in our bodies.
We all know how amazing we feel after a great night's sleep. Our bodies have what they need to keep working at optimal levels when we're eating and sleeping right. You may even find that when you start getting better sleep, it leads to positive health changes.
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