Women Health

Everything Midlife Women Would Like To Know About Sleep (if They Weren’t Too Tired To Ask)

A good night’s sleep may be elusive once women reach their 40’s and beyond. Fluctuating hormone levels, a mind that doesn’t turn off when you turn in, and getting up to use the bathroom all contribute to sleepless nights and yawn-filled days. If you’re tired of counting sheep when you should be snoozing, the following answers to sleep questions can help:

What can I do about night sweats?

In perimenopause and menopause, declining estrogen levels can cause hot flashes while you sleep, called night sweats. These can be relieved with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), but because studies have linked long-term use of synthetic HRT to increased risk of serious illnesses, including breast cancer and heart disease, the latest recommendation is to use the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time. (For complete study results go to ). Bioidentical hormones?natural HRT–also keep night sweats at bay, but their long-term safety has not been well researched.

Some women swear by alternative remedies, including soy products (soy milk, tofu, tempeh, soy nuts), herbs such as black cohosh and dong quai, and vitamins B and E. Before you add more soy to your diet or try herbs, though, talk to your doctor. Soy and some herbs mimic estrogen, so their safety for use by women with breast cancer is questionable. In addition, the FDA does not regulate herbal supplements.

After a typically too-full day, how can I get my mind to stop racing and go to sleep?

It may help to get problems off your mind by writing them down before bedtime. You can also try learning a relaxation technique, such as meditation or progressive muscle relaxation (tensing and releasing all your muscles, starting at your feet and working up to your head). Listening to soft, slow music before bed may also ease you off to sleep; a recent study showed that it slows heart rate and breathing.

I get up to go to the bathroom two or three times a night. Help!

As we get older, the hormone system in the brain that normally suppresses the urge to urinate during sleep is disturbed. For some women, a few lifestyle changes solve the problem. Try limiting the amount of liquid you consume for 4-5 hours before bedtime, and steer clear of caffeine and alcohol late in the day. Don’t eat a large meal close to bedtime. And losing weight, if you’re overweight, will relieve pressure on your bladder. If these don’t solve the problem, talk to your doctor.

Will working out help me sleep better?

Yes, according to a recent study at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, which found that women age 50-75 who started taking brisk walks for 30 minutes in the morning improved their ability to fall asleep at night by 70%. Working out in the afternoon is good, too. Just avoid exercise within three hours of bedtime, because it can make it harder to fall asleep.

My husband tells me I snore. How do I stop?

Snoring becomes more common in women after menopause. Try sleeping on your side or stomach instead of your back. To keep from rolling onto your back, sew a pocket into the back of your p.j.s and put a tennis ball in it. If your snoring is loud and persistent, interrupted by pauses in breathing, and your feel excessively sleepy during the day, you may have a more serious disorder called sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor, who can recommend lifestyle changes and other treatments that can get you (and your husband) back to sleep.

Might the problem be my bed?

Could be, especially if your mattress is over 10 years old. When mattress shopping, lie down on each mattress for at least 15 minutes in various sleeping positions, with your partner if you sleep with a partner. And play it safe: buy from a company that lets you sleep on the mattress at home and return it at no cost. Don’t forget your pillow. When you fold it in half, if it doesn’t spring open by itself, it’s time to replace it. Whether you prefer synthetic or down filling, go for comfort.

Sweet dreams!

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