We all know that sleep often becomes more difficult as we age. Some of us who’ve accumulated a certain number of birthday cards know this first hand! We also know that our circadian “clocks”—an internal mechanism that keeps us on a 24-hour, night-day cycle—function less well with age, and this contributes to sleep problems that can plague older adults, including:
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Trouble staying asleep
- Problems with daytime alertness
- Hormonal changes throughout a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle—primarily fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone—can make falling asleep and staying asleep more difficult. These changes can also cause night sweats and hot flashes which can interfere with sleep.
- Menopause and peri-menopause bring their own set of hormone-related sleep challenges: insomnia is a common—and often overlooked—problem for women experiencing menopause.
- While raising young children, everyone in the family is likely to be sleep-deprived at times, but women with young children are more likely to be deprived of sleep than men.
- Exercise early in the day. Morning exercise can help stimulate your mind and body to a more alert, wakeful state, and sends the get-up-and-go message to your circadian brain.
- Get outside. Exposure to sunlight stimulates the brain’s SCN. Turn your coffee break into a quick walk around the block, and you’ll also be helping strengthen your circadian clock.
- Routine, routine. Our minds and bodies love—and respond to—routines. Setting regular bedtimes and rising times, eating and exercising at the same times during the day, are calming to the mind and help reinforce the body’s inner circadian rhythms.