Most of us know from experience that tossing and turning at night means feeling rotten the next day. And many of us understand that there are long-term health consequences when we’re short-changed on sleep.
But recently I found out something new from a fascinating study on sleep and its effect on how fast postmenopausal women’s genes age – which is known as their “epigenetic age.” (Carroll et al. 2017)
In the study, postmenopausal women with 5 insomnia symptoms were nearly 2 years older biologically than similar women with no insomnia symptoms. The more insomnia symptoms — waking up at night, not being able to fall back asleep, disturbed sleep and so on — the greater the effect. If you’re sleeping only 6 hours a night, however, it doesn’t seem to increase your epigenetic age — so long as it’s restful sleep. And that, of course, is where a lot of us have trouble.
So what can we do about all this? I like to point out that the research shows that our genes are not entirely out of our control, and we can influence how they respond by taking better care of ourselves. For those of us who are done with menopause and may be having trouble sleeping, this means looking at ways we can improve our rest.
4 sleep tips to try
- Keep a regular schedule. Your brain likes consistency, so go to bed by 11 and at the same regular hour each night and in a dark room. When you rise immediately take in morning light either by going outside or opening a window. Ensuring proper light health is key to your circadian health.
- Turn off the electronics! Computers, TVs, phones — they all are the enemy of sleep. Even a short duration of light shining in your eyes fools your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up. Shut down at least an hour before bedtime every night without fail, and put your phone on its charger in another room so you’re not tempted to look at it if you can’t sleep.
- Eat early and moderately. Heavy meals too close to bedtime disrupt sleep, while avoiding caffeine and stimulations (like dramatic/stressful TV shows) can also help sleep.
- Keep relaxing once in bed. Once in bed, consider practicing relaxing abdominal breathing or guided visualizations like those of Yoga Nidra.
You can see some of my favorite sleep remedies in the checklist above, including natural L-Tryptophan, which can be combined with magnesium for an even more relaxing effect.
Carroll, J. E. et al. 2017. Epigenetic aging and immune senescence in women with insomnia symptoms: Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative Study, Biological Psychiatry 81(2):136-144.