It is more difficult to get a good night’s sleep as we get older,” states Dr Anita Raja of one of the dilemmas faced as we age. “During perimenopause and menopause it becomes difficult to get a good quality sleep. Many women suffer from hot flushes, hormonal fluctuations, urinary problems and aches and pains. It’s difficult to get comfortable at night and it only gets worse.”
According to Dr Anita, the most important thing to do when you’re menopausal is not to wear silk to go to bed. Wear breathable cotton because you’re more likely to sweat at night. If you’re having problems with insomnia, always make sure the room you sleep in is at a cool temperature – regulate the temperature with windows open if need be. You don’t want to be too warm at night. “If you’re getting bladder problems at night or incontinence, then chat with your GP about bladder retraining,” says Dr Anita. She also recommends not having carbonated or caffeinated drinks before bedtime or indeed after 6.30pm. “Also so you’re not needing the loo overnight, be mindful of what you’re consuming before you go to bed.”
Restless leg syndrome commonly affects many older people at night. “It is difficult to manage without medication,” observes Dr Anita, “although CBT can help. Avoid alcohol before bedtime and avoid caffeine. Alcohol will make restless leg worse. Also go to your GP for a blood test because restless leg could be a symptom of thyroid or anaemia. It could be triggered by caffeine, alcohol or tobacco.” Regular exercise is helpful and massage is also useful. A hot bath before bedtime can ease it as can hot compresses on the affected areas. Relaxation, tai chi and yoga are all good.
Breathing and snoring at night can also be problematic. “People who snore may have sleep apnea which is a serious condition,” warns Dr Anita, “you will feel sleepy the next morning and have a poor quality of sleep. If you’re not breathing properly, snoring a lot and tired the next morning the see your GP.” The GP may refer you for what is called ‘Sleep Studies’. The reason why you are snoring or not breathing properly can be asthma, reflux, heart problems, thyroid or sleep apnea. There are lots of reasons according to Dr Anita. It could be a side effect of anti-epilepsy medication for example. You need to find out what is causing the problem.
“Being overweight is also key to healthy breathing at night,” says Dr Anita, “You need to make sure you are walking a minimum of three times per week – briskly - so that your heart rate is up and you are sweaty. The metabolism gets slower as we get older. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise. Avoid fast food and eat lots of vegetables. Avoid snacks, sugary desserts and processed food.”
Another source of good advice on quality sleep is Dr Andrew Huberman. Episode 2 of the Huberman Lab Podcast also has plenty of tips and information on sleeping soundly. Wishing you a decent night’s rest.