40 Ways Your Sleep Changes After 40
Feeling like your shut-eye isn't what it used to be? You're not alone.
If you’re in your 40s and you still log the sort of deep sleep that you pulled off so effortlessly as a teen, congratulations! You are in the minority of people who experience zero drop off in sleep quality. But if you feel that your shut-eye isn’t all that it once was? Join the club.
It’s no secret that the stresses of everyday adult life can often add up during the day, making it difficult to relax at night. But it goes without saying that your sleep patterns can change and vary along with how your body changes as you grow into middle-age. Here’s a small primer on what to look forward to when you get into bed. And for great ways to help you catch more Z’s, check out these 65 Tips for Your Best Sleep Ever.
Your sleep duration changes, but not your sleep needs
While you might find that you have fewer hours of restful sleep as you get into your 40s, The Sleep Foundation’s recommendation for sleep duration (7-9 hours per night) doesn’t change. While teens and people in their 20s often exhibit an enviable ability to sleep long and deep, it is a common misconception that sleep needs decline with age with some research demonstrating that our sleep needs remain constant throughout adulthood. And for help getting better slumber, know that This Genius Productivity Hack Will Improve Your Sleep.
Good sleep requires more exercise
No one’s expecting you to be the gym rat you were in your 20s and 30s, but if the amount of exercise you perform has dropped off in your 40s, your inertia may be to blame for some sleepless nights.
A 2013 survey by the National Sleep Foundation revealed that regular, vigorous exercisers reported the best slumber. A study published in the journal BioMed Research International had similar findings. The research revealed that moderate aerobic exercise can help insomniacs sleep more soundly and fall asleep more quickly. For great tips on keeping active, consider the 30 Ways to Get More Energy Before Noon.
Your bedtime and wake time become more consistent
When we’re in our teens, 20s and 30s we tend to study and work hard to set ourselves up for later success. Not coincidentally, we tend to play our hardest during our young adulthood, too, squeezing every bit of fun out of the weekend.
As a result, there’s a big difference in the amount of sleep we get during the week and on weekends. When we get into our forties, however, we begin to have more consistent sleep patterns for both weeknights and weekends. One recent study found that older adults sleep on average 7.0 hours on weeknights and 7.1 hours on weekends—whereas younger weekend warriors have a mean sleep time of 6.7 hours on weeknights and 7.6 hours on weekends. One new way to get more sleep? Clean sleeping. Our correspondent tried it for two weeks and it changed her life.
Your body falls out of love with caffeine
Even if you’ve always drunk coffee jolt to get you through the afternoon, getting into your 40s might mean a shift in the way that caffeine affects you—so make a cup at 2 p.m. your last for the day. Research has found that caffeine can negatively impact sleep—even when it’s consumed within six hours of bedtime.
So enjoy that afternoon cup, then cut yourself off. Yes, this caffeine ban includes teas, sodas, and decaf (it still contains some of the stimulant). And for some edible sleep aids, know that Eating This One Thing Will Help You Sleep Better.
Your body may lose its beat
Circadian rhythms are mechanisms that control virtually all the processes in the human body. This includes when we sleep, when we wake, how our metabolism functions, and our cognitive processes.
A 2015 study showed that as we get older our body has a harder time finding the beat. “As we expected, younger people had that daily rhythm in all the classic ‘clock’ genes,” said Colleen McClung, a psychiatrist with the University of Pittsburgh. “But there was a loss of rhythm in many of these genes in older people, which might explain some of the alterations that occur in sleep, cognition and mood in later life.” And for ways to get your circadian rhythm working for you, check out the 29 Body Clock Hacks to Maximize Your Day.
Your sleep may not be as deep
Sleep occurs in five stages that repeat 4 or 5 times over the course of an uninterrupted night’s sleep. There are dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, and occasional periods of active dreaming (REM sleep). Though total sleep time tends to remain constant, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep.
Health conditions may cause you to toss and turn
As we get older, we’re more prone to experience medical problems, which are often chronic. People in ill health or who have chronic medical conditions tend to have more sleep problems. For example, hypertension is associated with snoring while menopause–which starts to get underway in a women’s 40s with perimenopause–and its accompanying hot flashes, changes in breathing, and decreasing hormone levels can lead to restless nights.
….As can the medications you use to treat them
Sometimes the medications people use to treat the health conditions that are disrupting their sleep can, in turn, not do your sleep any favors.
Your satisfaction with sleep may no longer be guaranteed
Several studies and surveys have shown that people are less likely to report that they are satisfied with their sleep as they age.
Having to use the restroom in the night can become more common
Nocturia, or nocturnal polyuria, are fancy ways of saying getting up to empty your bladder in the middle of the night. During sleep, your body produces less urine that is more concentrated, enabling us to get in an uninterrupted snooze session.
In men, an enlargement of the prostate can be the root cause but it can also be chalked up to overactive bladder, diabetes, anxiety, a kidney infection, and plenty of other things besides. However, often needing to pee at night can be chalked up to taking on too much fluid (particularly caffeine and alcohol) too soon before bedtime.
…Which can have knock on effects
Until you get a handle on what’s causing your noctoria, you may want to start feeling your way to the bathroom and sitting down to use the toilet at night—even if you don’t have to. Flicking on a light is going to wake you up by interfering with your body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep.
Your afternoon naps may be keeping you up at night
As we get into our 40s, many people start to make an afternoon nap part of their routine whether it be at the weekend or—and if our work situation allows—throughout the week. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to show that napping can reduce stress and help you be more active productive throughout the day but to get the most out of a siesta you have to do it right.
Nap too long, however—anything over around 25 minutes—and you’ll wind up in a deeper sleep phase and you’ll feel groggier when you wake. Nap too late in the day—anytime after 5—and it may be harder to feel like going to bed at bedtime. Set a timer when you power down and try and get supplementary winks in the early to mid-afternoon.
Heartburn may be the cause of sleepless night
If you’ve ever had heartburn, you’ll know that it’s zero fun and is the enemy of a good night’s sleep. If you have heartburn two or more times weekly, it could be caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD and you should talk with your doctor. As with most ailments, this one tends to become more of an issue as we age.
….As can stress and worry
Financial pressures, career stresses, maintaining a great relationship with our partners and children, caring for our parents, and much more cause us stress and anxiety in our 40s. Having all of these thoughts rushing through our heads at bedtime is, as you might expect, not compatible with a good night’s sleep.
Having a mediation practice at night can be one way to set yourself up for sleep success as can establishing a pre-bed routine that might powering down all your devices, taking a hot shower, and using only candlelight for at least 30 minutes before you fall asleep.
You snore more
Snoring is the primary cause of sleep disruption for around 90 million American adults; 37 million on a regular basis. Snoring is most commonly associated with people who are overweight, and since we tend to put on weight as we get older, the condition often becomes worse as years go by.
Maintaining a healthy weight can be a key part of reducing snoring—as can avoiding alcohol before bed, changing your sleeping position, staying hydrated, and, if the problem exists in your nose and not within the soft palate, nasal strips may also work to lift nasal passages and open them up.
As do your chances of experiencing sleep apnea
Loud snoring isn’t just an inconvenience for anyone who happens to be in earshot. It can be symptom of obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and is associated with high blood pressure and other health problems. With OSA, breathing can stops for as long a minute. During this time, the amount of oxygen in the blood drops.
The brain is alerted to this, which causes a brief arousal (awakening) and a resumption in breathing. These pauses in breathing can happen many times over the course of a night, resulting in excessive daytime sleepiness and impaired daytime function. If you think you’re experiencing OSA, you’d be wise to talk to your doctor about it as soon as you can.
Having the odd sleepless night can happen at any age, but the problem is more likely to become chronic as we get closer to midlife and beyond. According to National Sleep Foundation’s 2003 Sleep in America poll, 44% of older adults experience one or more of the nighttime symptoms of insomnia at least a few nights per week or more.
Insomnia may be chronic (lasting over one month) or acute (lasting a few days or weeks), and is often related to an underlying cause, such as a medical or psychiatric condition.
You may get restless leg syndrome
Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a neurological movement disorder that results in an irresistible urge to move the limbs. Its prevalence increases with age, and about 10% of people in North America and Europe are reported to experience RLS symptoms.
With RLS, unpleasant, tingling, creeping, or pulling feelings occur mostly in the legs, and become worse in the evening and make it difficult to sleep through the night. Cutting down on alcohol consumption, stretching, moderate exercise, and adding to your iron intake can all help lessen the prevalence of RLS and the reduce the impact it can have on your sleep.
Your pets affect your sleep
In your forties, we often find ourselves with a house, a spouse, some kids, and some furry friends, too. Although you may love dozing off with your four-legged friend, animals can be a bit restless. A study by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center found that 53 percent of people who sleep with their pets have disturbed rest and abnormal sleep patterns.
So before putting yourself to bed, send your critters to the doghouse, and head back to the bedroom solo. And for more on starting your day off right, here’s the Secret to Waking Yourself Up Without an Alarm Clock.
You may be more sensitive to temperature
If you find that just a few degrees’ difference on the thermostat is standing between you and more restful sleep as you age, you’re not alone. Research published by The Gerontology Society of America reveals that older individuals tend to have lower body temperatures. This may make you more sensitive to variations in heat or cold, potentially necessitating some changes in the temperature of your bedroom, a heavier blanket, or both. And if you’re game, consider a weighted blanked, which is the Secret Sleep Cure Everyone Is Talking About.
And require a more comfortable bed
While you may have been able to do an intense workout and crawl comfortably into bed afterward at 22, odds are you’re experiencing more aches and pains at 40. This probably means that lumpy futon you’ve been lugging around won’t provide the restful night’s sleep it once did. Luckily, you’re also more likely to have some financial stability in your 40s, meaning you can spring for a more comfortable bed and still make your mortgage payment.
Your testosterone levels may keep you up
If you find yourself tossing and turning at night in your 40s, you might want to get your testosterone levels checked. Our testosterone levels tend to dip as we age, and research suggests a link between low testosterone levels and sleep quality. So, if you can’t sleep, it might be time for a blood test.
Your usual pillow may not cut it
According to the International Association for the Study of Pain, up to 50 percent of population experiences neck pain at one point or another. However, the occurrence of neck pain tends to spike in middle age, so that flattened pillow or that stiff foam one may be providing you the wrong kind of support. Fortunately, a new pillow may provide you the neck pain relief you need to enjoy more restorative rest.
And you may need socks to sleep
While it may be harder to lose that spare tire after 40, in many parts of our bodies, we’re actually losing fat. As we age, our subcutaneous fat tends to noticeably deplete in parts like our hands and feet, making them uncomfortably chilly at night. Medications and health conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes, which tend to affect more people in middle age, can also reduce circulation to the extremities, making you less comfortable sans socks or slippers.
That nightcap can keep you awake
A glass of wine may make you feel sleepy, but it’s hardly a prescription for better sleep, especially as you age. Research suggests that older individuals tend to experience greater effects from alcohol, which may include disturbances in REM sleep.
Your sheets may need an upgrade
As we get older, our skin tends to lose moisture, making it drier and more sensitive. Unfortunately, that probably means your scratchy sheets won’t cut it any longer. Now’s the perfect time to upgrade to something with a higher thread count.
Your rumbling stomach could keep you up
A sluggish digestion as we round the corner into our 40s doesn’t just mean the scale starts moving in the wrong direction—it can also mean a louder digestive tract, too. Fortunately, adding some extra fiber into your diet, whether in the form of vegetables or a spoonful of flax in your morning smoothie, can help fix the problem fast.
Dust mites might be your nighttime enemy
Washing your sheets at least once a week may help you fend off sleep issues in your 40s.
According to research published in Aging and Disease, reactions to common allergens can increase with age, so make sure you’re keeping your bed as clean as possible for more restful, less-sneezy sleep.
Men may sweat less
While there’s plenty not to love about the aging process, at least you may be able to kiss those sweaty nights goodbye. The human furnace act from your 20s may be a thing of the past by the time 40 rolls around. According to researchers at Penn State, as we age, our sweat glands tend to atrophy, meaning you may sweat less in your sleep than you did when you were younger.
But women might be sweatier
Unfortunately, that may not be true for women, however. Menopause, which often starts in a woman’s late 40s, can cause hot flashes and night sweats. And for more great advice on aging, here are the 40 Worst Habits for People Over 40.
Your laundry habits can disrupt your sleep
That all-purpose detergent you used to use could be the cause of your sleepless nights in your 40s. As your skin gets drier with age, you may find yourself more sensitive to soap and other fragranced products. To sleep more soundly, opt for a hypoallergenic, scent-free formula instead.
Nighttime noises disturb you more
While age may be correlated with increasing rates of hearing loss, you may find that nighttime noises actually keep you up more as you age. According to research conducted at Ohio University, people tend to have lower tolerance for loud noises as we age, meaning those creaky stairs or a snoring partner can keep you up all night.
Minor injuries may keep you up
A little injury can leave you tossing and turning all night if you’re over 40. According to research published in Aging Cell, less-effective sweat glands contribute to slower wound healing as we age. As a result, you may find that seemingly-minor shaving nick that would normally have healed by now bothering you when you’re trying to rest.
A little good news before bed can go a long way
If you’re eager to turn off the non-stop thoughts plaguing you before bed, try talking to your partner about something happier. Researchers at Gonzaga University in Oregon found that couples who discussed good news with one another before bed slept better than those who skipped the sharing. And for some more great advice, here’s the Secret Pre-Bed Productivity Trick That Will Help You Sleep.
Your mind takes longer to turn off
There’s no denying that most people have a fair amount to be stressed about by their 40s, from paying bills to increasing pressure as they near the apex of their careers. Unfortunately, these nagging thoughts often make it harder to turn off your brain when it’s time to get some rest.
The good news? A little meditation can go a long way, particularly when it comes to getting better sleep over 40. According to research published in JAMA Internal Medicine, practicing mindfulness before bed helped reduce sleep disturbances in a group of older adults.
You may need to alter your preferred sleep position
While 80 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives, the frequency and severity of said pain tends to increase as we age. As a result, your go-to sleep position may not cut it anymore, turning you from a staunch stomach sleeper to someone who needs a veritable pillow fort to get comfortable.
Your legs might require some stretching
Lower leg pain tends to increase as we get older, often cutting into our sleep as we age. Luckily, leg pain doesn’t have to mean restless nights on the horizon. According to research published in the Journal of Physiotherapy, older adults who stretched before bed significantly lessened the number of leg cramps they experienced.
You may wake up earlier
If your parents seemed to rise at the crack of dawn, it may not have been because they couldn’t get enough of rising while it was still dark out. In fact, research suggests that, as we age, we tend to rise earlier, so don’t be surprised if 5 AM is the new 7.
Your lack of sleep may be a self-perpetuating cycle
Getting adequate sleep is inextricably linked with weight control. In fact, researchers at UC Berkeley have found a link between sleep deprivation and junk food cravings, while a study published in The Lancet found that sleep loss slowed the body’s carbohydrate metabolism. Unfortunately, this may set you up for more trouble in the future. Weight gain resulting from those sleepless nights may increase your risk of sleep apnea, joint pain, and diabetes, all of which can make it harder to get a good night’s rest. Luckily, the 20 Nighttime Habits Guaranteed to Help You Sleep Better may have you sleeping soundly again before you know it.
You sleep fewer hours
Yup, sorry. It’s around 40 that you start to realize that sleeping in past a certain time is a rare occurrence and usually associate with what you were doing the night before whether that’s pulling an all nighter for a work or fun. As they get into their 40s, many people report having a harder time falling asleep and more trouble staying asleep than when they were younger. Getting less sleep isn’t something you should be resigned to. For more healthy sleep tips, check out these 10 Ways to Sleep Better Tonight.
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