Reaching age 50 is a major milestone: You’ve spent five decades exploring yourself and the world with loved ones and friends, and there’s still so much ahead of you. On the flip side, this birthday can bring about a new set of challenges, such as menopause and signs of aging that seemed to show up overnight. To find out more about this group of women and their lifestyle, Coresight Research conducted a survey earlier this year with 400 women ages 50 and up.
According to the survey results, 60 percent of participants said they had difficulty sleeping, and a whopping 20 percent said they’ve sought a doctor for help with the issue. I spoke to Dr. Angela Holliday-Bell, a board-certified physician and certified sleep specialist to find out why this number is so high, and what women can do to enhance their sleep.
Why Women Over 50 Have Difficulty Sleeping
The biggest reason is perimenopause and menopause, says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “The hormonal shifts that occur during that time, such as a decrease in progesterone and estrogen, along with symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes, night sweats and mood changes, greatly impact sleep quality. In addition, sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea increase in prevalence after menopause, leading to poor sleep quality. Other significant life changes such as becoming an empty-nester, caring for aging parents, or developing health issues in themselves and/or their spouse contribute to overall stress and anxiety that can impact sleep.”
What to Try Before Calling the Doctor
Though life can get busy, Dr. Holliday-Bell says it’s important to prioritize sleep. “Preparing for sleep should start from the moment you open your eyes each day. Setting your day and night up in a way that is conducive to sleep can make the world of difference,” she explains. To accomplish this, create a bedtime routine that is more enjoyable. “This should be thought of as your ‘me time’ and a time to fully indulge in relaxation and destress from the day. This should start with dimming the lights and lighting a candle, like the Neom Perfect Night’s Sleep Scented Candle, which is packed with aromatherapy scents such as lavender and chamomile that have been shown to promote relaxation and help with sleep.”
Taking a warm bath or shower can also help, Dr. Holliday-Bell continues, because they cause a decrease in central body temperature, which facilitates the transition to sleep. “Layering aromatherapy products, such as those that are scented with lavender or infused with magnesium—bath oils and body lotions—can help elevate the experience even more. Listening to soothing music and reading a book have also both been shown in research to help individuals fall asleep faster and promote better sleep quality.”
In the quest for better sleep, it’s also important to note what not to do. “Avoid blue light from electronics and other stimulating activities that can interfere with sleep,” says Dr. Holliday-Bell. “The key is crafting a routine that is calming and soothing.” According to the Sleep Foundation, blue light stimulates parts of the brain that make us feel alert, which elevates our body temperature and heart rate. “Set an alarm that reminds you to turn off electronics two to three hours before bedtime,” the organization recommends. Glasses that block blue light can help, too, and/or you can dim the brightness of your electronic screens. Some devices have a “night mode” feature as well.
How a Doctor Can Help
Dr. Holliday-Bell says that managing sleep issues during this stage of life typically requires a multistep approach. “For women suffering from menopause symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats, there are prescription medication options that can be helpful,” she explains. “Screening for sleep disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea is helpful, especially if there are concerning symptoms present. If there are positive findings on the screening, then a sleep study would likely be conducted to rule out a sleep disorder.”
“In addition, women with chronic insomnia who are perimenopausal or going through menopause often benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia,” Dr. Holliday-Bell continues. “This is a therapeutic technique that identifies and reforms maladaptive thoughts and subsequent behaviors surrounding sleep that lead to insufficient sleep. It also entails building healthy sleep habits, such as keeping a consistent sleep schedule, engaging in relaxation techniques to help with anxiety and stress, and building bedtime routines that are helpful for sleep.”