While about half of all men and women report having trouble sleeping around midlife, women seem to be more adversely affected. It makes sense that a lack of sleep is associated with mood disturbances such as anxiety, depression and irritability but it is more worrisome that problems with sleep are linked to chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and breast cancer.
Abnormal sleep patterns with less than 5 hours per night are associated increased cognitive decline when compared to control groups who achieve 7 hours of restful shut eye.
There are as many reasons for insomnia as there are insomniacs but some of the most common reasons are night sweats, restless leg syndrome, stress, depression, anxiety, pain, medication (thyroid medication is one of the worst culprits) and conditions that rob the body of oxygen overnight like heart disease, allergies and sleep apnea.
The first step in treatment is often disregarded before it is given a solid trial and that is copious sleep hygiene. This involves sleeping in a cool, dark, quiet room in light sleepwear. Eating heavy evening meals will, not only, affect sleep quality but will pack on the pounds as calories are stored overnight. Some people notice that they sleep better after an alcoholic beverage or two but chances are sleep quality is worse and waking through the night after a couple glasses of wine if very common. Obvious triggers for insomnia are caffeine, nicotine and chocolate so think twice before having that latte and a smoke in the restaurant before heading home to lay awake all night long.
More serious treatment planning involves ramping up daily exercise, use of nightly relaxation techniques or meditation and sticking to a regular sleep/wake cycle even on weekends. Cortisol is the main “wake up” neurotransmitter and melatonin the main one for sleeping and the body has patterns of secretion that can be naturally adjusted based on behavioral patterns of sleep, exercise and wakefulness.
Once all conservative measures have been implemented, prescription medications such as hormone replacement therapy may be helpful for women in the menopausal age range. Caution is needed before initiating any stronger and, possibly addicting, sedatives or hypnotics. Instead, preference should be given to non-prescription sleep aids to augment better sleep.
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