As you passed the 50 mark did you start to notice a change in your sleep patterns? Were you sleeping less? Maybe going to bed earlier and/or getting up earlier? I did. And, now that I’m over 60 it has become more pronounced. It has become my new sleep pattern. I typically only get about 6 hours of sleep at night, give or take. So, I started to research if others have sleep problems over 50. Is it part of aging? What are the health ramifications? And what can I do about it?
If you’re concerned about the amount of sleep you're getting as you age just know you are not alone. It seems that dealing with a sleep pattern change and getting less sleep is something that most people face once they hit that 50 mark. It generally has to do with our bodies producing fewer hormones such as melatonin. But it also can be attributed to other health challenges that most of us contend with as we get older. The other piece of the puzzle may be some underlying and more serious health issues. The good news is that there are some things we can do about it without taking prescription drugs or sleep aids.
Everyone Is Different
As I continue here it’s important to note that our bodies are all different. Men and women deal with different hormone changes. We all have different levels of the effects of aging at different ages. So, I’m going to give you a profile of me so you can compare your sleep issues with mine. In that way, you can better assess what might be different or the same about your body and why you might be dealing with a lack of sleep. And what you potentially can do about it.
This is Me Just for Comparison
I am 63 and consider myself to be active for my age. I exercise 5 days a week most weeks. That consists of resistance band muscular training, walking 3 miles, biking for recreation, and running one day a week for various distances up to 3 miles. I work at the computer 8 and up to 10 hours a day.
One of my challenges with sleep is that I have a hard time staying up past 8 pm but I fall asleep within 10 minutes. Therefore, I have no problem with insomnia. I wake up habitually at 1-2 am to go to the bathroom and generally have a hard time going back to sleep after that. My mind is on overdrive at that point thinking about what I need or want to do that day. So generally, I just get up and get my day started at these ridiculously early hours. On a good day, I can go back to sleep for another hour or two. As a result, I generally take a 20 minute to 1-hour nap at some point during the day.
The health issues I have acquired since I turned 50 include the removal of a cancerous kidney, enlargement of my prostate (as most men do), mild fatty liver, some minor arthritis pain, and Grover’s Disease. Grover’s Disease occurs mainly in men over 50 and is itchy as hell. During an outbreak, this can certainly affect my sleep. If you didn’t know what Grover’s is you don’t have it and should be thankful. Trust me.
Because I work at home and manage my own schedule, my sleep patterns don’t cause a problem. I came to the conclusion that this was my life now and it was ok. However, I have also been struggling to lose weight. Even though I do exercise regularly and eat a diet of under 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day (dependent upon the amount of exercise that day), I can’t drop the pounds. As a result of researching that issue, I found that a lower amount of testosterone (which men and women naturally experience as we age) can affect weight loss. And one of the ways to help increase testosterone is getting the proper amount of sleep. So, that is why I started researching sleep problems over 50. Phew!
10 Tips for Overcoming Sleep Problems Over 50 (PLUS A BONUS!)
Let’s dive into what we can do to help us get more sleep and a better night’s sleep. I’m going to give you what I’ve learned about overcoming sleep problems over 50 but I am not claiming that I yet do all these things just yet. I’m in the process right along with you!
Note- If you have an underlying health condition such as heart or lung conditions, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), osteoarthritis, depression, anxiety, or other medical condition consult your physician and visit Better Health While Aging.
- Stay away from alcohol before bedtime. Your body can wake up once the alcohol wear’s off and it may make you need to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night (especially men).
- Drink fewer fluids at night for obvious reasons.
- Don’t eat after 5 or 6 pm. The amount you eat and what you eat later in the day can affect your sleep. Sleeping is a time for your whole body to rest. If you’ve eaten after 6 pm and/or have eaten sugary foods as an example, your body will be busy digesting food during the night. This can cause you to wake up earlier than you’d like.
- Stick to a regular bedtime and time that you get up each day, even on the weekends.
- Turn off the TV an hour before you want to fall asleep. Read a book, meditate, or listen to music. The blue light coming off your TV or tablet is not good for your melatonin production. Shut down the electronics an hour before bedtime.
- Exercise regularly and at regular times each day. (However, do not exercise within 3 hours of bedtime). This will help you tire yourself out and make your body and your mind want to rest. If you don’t exercise at all now start walking a couple of miles a day. If you do exercise now as I do push yourself more. For example, Shirley and I usually walk 3 miles on the beach each morning. Yesterday I decided to run half of that distance and walk the rest with her. I went to bed at 8 pm. I fell asleep immediately and woke up at 1:30 am to go to the bathroom right on cue. But I was able to go back to sleep until 5:30 am!! I got 9 hours of sleep last night. I can count on one hand the number of nights in the last few years that I got 9 hours of sleep.
- Get some sun as often as you can. Go outside on every sunny day and let your body absorb some vitamin D. Be cautious however not to overdo it, of course. The sun can help trigger your brain to release the hormone, serotonin. This will help calm you, help you be more focused, and lift your mood. It will also draw a contrast for your brain between day and night which will trigger the release of melatonin at bedtime when it’s dark. Melatonin helps you sleep.
- If your sleep partner snores do something about it. My wife Shirley doesn’t snore all the time. But when her head and neck are in certain positions she does. I dealt with this for many years but a few years ago we decided to sleep in separate rooms. This is a big lifestyle change but if you are tired all the time from a lack of sleep, or it’s causing other issues for you, it is something that you may want to consider.
- Have more sex! That’s right. Having more physical intimacy with your partner can help you fall asleep. This may seem more difficult if you don’t sleep together because your partner snores. That’s true. So, you just have to be more deliberate about your desire and talk to your partner about it before bedtime.
- Check the side effects of any medications you are taking. Some medications can keep you awake at night. Talk to your doctor about changing medications if needed.
My Big New Discovery
I shared above that what led me to research how to deal with sleep problems over 50 was my struggle to lose weight. One of the issues we face in losing weight as we get older is a lack of testosterone production. What I’ve discovered is something that can increase testosterone to help us lose weight AND help us sleep better, Ashwagandha.
According to the National Institutes of Health, “Ashwagandha extract is a natural compound with sleep-inducing potential is well tolerated and improves sleep quality and sleep onset latency in patients with insomnia at a dose of 300 mg extract twice daily. It could be a potential candidate for the treatment of insomnia and anxiety.”
And according to Healthline.com, “Another study suggests ashwagandha increases exercise performance, strength and fat loss, while also boosting testosterone levels significantly. At present, it seems likely that ashwagandha could help increase testosterone levels in stressed individuals, possibly by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.”
I know that the main reason that I typically can’t fall back to sleep after going to the bathroom in the middle of the night is due to my cortisol levels. My brain goes into overdrive immediately. And I just lay there awake. That’s why I decide to just get up, have a cup of coffee, and get some work done.
Ashwagandha plants are native to India, northern Africa, and the Middle East, but they can now be cultivated in temperate climates around the world, including the United States.
So, what do you think I did next? I researched the best Ashwagandha supplement and best-selling Ashwagandha brand and bought some. It’s too early for me to give you a ringing endorsement just yet. I will come back and do that once I have some history of taking Ashwagandha under my belt. But if you are dealing with weight loss and/or sleep problems over 50 I highly recommend that you try the best-selling Ashwagandha supplement on Amazon.
So, what have I learned (and you have now learned)?
- Most of us have sleep problems over 50.
- Sleep, or lack thereof, can cause many issues. One of which is problems losing weight.
- Sleep issues closely relate to a lack of melatonin production.
- Issues with losing weight can be caused by a lack of testosterone production.
- There are several lifestyle changes we can make to help with sleep.
- Ashwagandha can improve both sleep and our ability to lose weight.