What’s Keeping You Awake at Night?

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How’s your sleep? If you are a typical woman at midlife, chances are it’s not really good. In fact, a study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that close to 20 percent of all women aged 40 to 59 said they had trouble falling asleep on four or more nights in the prior week. Nearly 36 percent of postmenopausal women aged 40 to 59 said they had trouble staying asleep through the night. So, the question then becomes – what’s keeping you awake?

Do you have trouble turning your brain off, toss and turn, wake up at every little sound, and feel tired first thing in the morning? Are you constantly too hot/too cold/too hot/too cold? Getting up to go to the bathroom, let the dog out, or massage leg cramps? Your health and happiness are directly tied to the quality of your sleep. Sleep is important. Sleep is necessary. It’s time to get some answers, so you can get the sleep you deserve.

Most people are aware of the importance of sleep, but as a society we don’t do what is good for us in this area. We are chronically sleep derived and even proud of the fact. since it indicates a life on the go and total dedication to our work. But the mind platter indicates that true dedication would consist of balancing the brain for optimal performance, which means taking seriously time in, down time, and sleep time.

Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi, from the book Super Brain

5 Steps to Determine What’s Keeping You Awake

Step #1:  See Your Doctor

Do you have physical issues that are keeping you awake?

Some aches and pains are temporary, such as over-exercised muscles, strain from sitting too much, or a sore back from lifting something heavy.

But consistent poor sleep quality can be a symptom of an undiagnosed physical illness, so it’s important that a visit to your caregiver be your FIRST step in resolving your sleep problem.  If there is an underlying medical problem, all the other steps combined will not resolve your sleep issues until the medical issue is resolved.

Your doctor can perform a number of simple tests to determine if a medical concern is at the root of your sleep problems.  Many of these are easily treatable once they have been properly diagnosed.

One common issue is sleep apnea. According to Psychology Today, approximately 14% of women ages 55-70 have sleep apnea, and this number jumps to 30% for those with a BMI of 30 or above. Most of these women do not even realize they have apnea, which can lead to serious problems if not treated. However, with treatment (often a non-invasive CPAP Machine), sleep and overall health can improve dramatically.

Thyroid issues are another concern. By age 50, 10% of women will have signs of thyroid trouble (high, low, lumps, cancer) and this percentage reaches 17% by age 60, according to some studies.

Chronic medical conditions, such as liver disease, heart failure, arthritis, Parkinson’s, and cancer, can all change your sleep. Even though this all sounds scary, it’s always better to have answers than to worry (which will also cause you to lose sleep). So see your doctor.

what's keeping you awake? blue alarm clock set at 3am

Step #2: Determine if Your Bed is the Problem

Are you due for a new mattress?  The average lifespan of a mattress is considered to be seven to fifteen years.  If yours is sagging, too soft, or lumpy, it may be time to consider a replacement. A poor mattress is a major contributor to poor sleep.

Pillows wear out even more quickly than mattresses – in one to four years, depending on their composition.  I learned late in life that a good quality pillow really makes a tremendous difference in the quality of my sleep.

Bedding also can affect your comfort.  Your sheets should be in a breathable fabric, soft, non-itchy or scratchy, and without tears.  There are many styles and weights of blankets, so do some research to find the fabric and weight that you like best.  Weighted blankets, typically filled with plastic or glass beads, have achieved cult status, with thousands swearing they promote deeper sleep.

Step #3:  Examine Your Physical Surroundings

Steps one and two are important, but step three can provide a more immediate impact, so don’t hesitate to try some of these solutions right away.

Too much light in your room is detrimental to both sleep and health.  Outside light can seep through gaps in curtains or blinds, and televisions, computer and phone screens, alarm clocks, and any other electronics emit light as well.  If you can easily see in your bedroom at night without lights on, consider installing blackout curtains, and keep electronics out of your bedroom. 

Unlike light, sound can be either negative or positive for sleep.  Tune out distractions by using guided imagery, soft music, a white noise machine, or even a fan.

The ideal temperature range for promoting quality sleep is 60-67 degrees.  Adjust your thermostat as needed.  A small fan can make a big difference in air circulation.

What you wear to sleep matters.  Consider three Fs for pajamas – fabric (make it breathable), fit (not too tight, but not so loose you get twisted up), and fasteners (avoid large buttons, zippers, and hooks that may poke you in the night). 

Who you sleep with also makes a difference – does your partner snore loudly?  Does your 90 pound pup rearrange himself often and take over your space?  You may have to create some new rules about sleeping that benefit everyone.

Step #4:  Consider Your Daytime Activities

Timing is everything, but certainly what you do during the day can have a major impact in how well you sleep at night.

Poor diet, caffeine, and alcohol are all sleep-disruptive. The effect is more dramatic if they are consumed closer to bedtime, but if you are particularly sensitive, then consumption anytime may have negative effects on your sleep. A large meal shortly before bedtime will almost certainly make you uncomfortable and keep you tossing and turning.

Exercise early in the day is beneficial to sleep. Closer to bedtime, it can wind you up and keep you awake.

Naps can be helpful if you are tired, so long as they are short (about twenty minutes) and taken no later than early afternoon. Again, the closer proximity to bedtime may contribute to sleeplessness.

Step #5:  Review Your Bedtime Routine

Do you go to bed close to the same time every night? If bedtime is wildly inconsistent, sleeplessness may follow. Your brain and body don’t know when it’s time to wind down. Try to go to bed at close to the same time every night.

Likewise, you should follow the same routine nightly as you ready yourself for bed. The specifics are up to you, but should involve quiet, calming activities and self-care. Make an effort to do everything before you climb into bed and turn out the light. You don’t want to be jumping up again at that point to take care of something you forgot. Be ready for sleep.

It’s important to settle your brain each night. If thoughts and emotions tend to keep you awake, try journaling, reading, guided imagery, or breathing exercises to soothe yourself and calm your mind.

Sleep is an investment in the energy you need to be effective tomorrow.

Tom Roth

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Final Thoughts on What’s Keeping You Awake

Sleep issues are incredibly common, particularly for midlife women. It’s important to look at all possible causes in order to determine what is causing your individual sleep issues. Some of these causes may be due to:

  • illness or other medical concerns
  • aging mattress or bedding
  • environmental issues, such as temperature or light
  • daytime behavior
  • bedtime routine (or lack of)

Whatever the cause, sleep is too important in our lives to allow it to be disrupted and unsatisfying. Understanding what is keeping you awake is the first step to resolving your sleep difficulties, and will lead to better health and overall quality of life.

what's keeping you awake? woman yawning into hand

4 thoughts on “What’s Keeping You Awake at Night?”

    1. Sleep is so elusive now, isn’t it! So unfair! I hope some of these tips help you get more solid zzzzs. Thanks for reading, Michelle!

  1. Pillow spray! Yes! I guess I left out the power of fragrance in this post, thank you for that comment! I love a little lavender oil rolled on the soles of my feet, but having a little scent on the pillow is wonderful, too. Thank you, Emma!

  2. I’ve found a bedtime routine SO helpful to help me unwind and get into the frame of mind to sleep. I find that I sleep more consistently and feel more alert when I wake up. I’ve also just purchased a Pillow Spray. Not sure it makes me sleep longer but it does help me calm down

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