The Importance of Sleep After 40
by Jo Macdonald
We've all heard about getting our 'beauty' sleep, but what about getting our 'live longer' sleep? A good night's kip isn't just about waking up looking refreshed instead of like something out of the Walking Dead, it also helps to add years to our lives. And quality to those years. Of course the irony is that as we reach our 40's many of us also move into perimenopause which often goes hand-in-hand with insomnia - oh universe you really are hilarious sometimes!
So what can we actually do to help ourselves get enough sleep? It turns out that there are a few things actually, but before we look at them let's look at WHY we seriously need to invest in our sleep after 40.
If we want to ward off Alzheimers, cancer, heart attacks, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and stay slim and happy, then getting enough sleep should be at the top of our to do list. Leading neuroscientist and author Matthew Walker writes in his book 'Why We Sleep'
'Scientists have discovered a revolutionary new treatment that makes you live longer. It enhances your memory, makes you more attractive. It keeps you slim and lowers food cravings. It protects you from cancer and dementia. It wards off colds and flu. It lowers your risk of heart attacks and stroke, not to mention diabetes. You’ll even feel happier, less depressed, and less anxious. Are you interested?'
Erm, YES! Seriously, does anyone say no? Well maybe, once they find out that the answer is 8 hours of good quality sleep a night. Why? Because our society has begun to praise being busy over rested, in fact the idea of 'pulling an all nighter' is seen by many as an indication of how dedicated you are. There are now more and more people advocating getting up at 5am in order to get a head start - which is fine, as long as you're asleep by 9pm, which is unlikely for most of us. We are a chronically sleep-deprived society and it is having a seriously detrimental effect on us. We spend huge sums of money both individually and as a whole on things to help us look better, feel better, live longer etc. but the truth is that the magic pill we are all looking for might just be as simple as getting more sleep. As Matthew says: 'no aspect of our biology is left unscathed by sleep deprivation.' Oh, and incase you're wondering, anything less than 7 hours of sleep a night is seen as sleep deprivation.
So, if we want to be healthier, happier and live longer (and better) then sleep is a must. But what can we do if we struggle to sleep at night? I've been exploring sleep for the last few weeks as part of the research for my new book on Longevity and, as someone who often struggles to sleep more than 5 hours in one go (and is therefore chronically sleep deprived) I've discovered that there are things that help:
SWITCH OFF your phone
I resisted this for SO long. I like my phone by my bed, and I like to check in before I go to sleep and when I wake up. BUT (annoyingly) I really did notice a difference when I started switching off my phone at 9pm and not turning it back on until I went into my office. As a mum though, I do like my older kids to be able to text me to say if they will be late home, or call in an emergency etc. And I do use my phone as an alarm. So I turn off my wifi and all data at 9pm so that I can't mindlessly scroll through social media or emails and I use the do not disturb function so that only selected people can call my phone during certain hours. Not only am I getting to sleep quicker now but I'm also finding my mornings much more relaxed.
INVEST IN BEDDING
Decent pillows, comfy sheets and a good mattress can make a huge difference to how well and how long you sleep. If your mattress is old (i.e. 8 years old) and/or uncomfortable then you are more likely to wake in the night and wake up feeling stiff and sore. Mattresses aren't cheap (having just bought a new one I can confirm this) but in the long run you could be saving money due to poor health, so it's kind of a no-brainer.
DITCH THE STIMULANTS
That means forgetting about caffeine and alcohol before bed. Neither of them will help your quality or length of sleep, so avoid having them at least an hour before bed and preferably longer. Electronics such as laptops, phones, and TV's also act as stimulants so switching off earlier will help you sleep better. Instead of working late at night or watching films you've already seen why not turn down the lights, put on some relaxing music and read, it's a much more enjoyable way to end the day.
One of the reasons that many of us don't sleep well is because we live more sedentary lives than ever before. If we haven't done enough physically during the day then our bodies won't be ready for a full nights sleep. Make sure you are getting plenty of daily exercise and moving your body as much as possible (although again avoid doing too much close to bed time).
A few extra things that can help you sleep well are:
Ensuring your room is nice and dark.
Making sure your room is neither too hot or too cold.
Having a bath to help you relax properly can help improve your sleep.
Reading a book (steer clear of work related things that might get your brain buzzing with ideas though).
Using an oil diffuser or essential oils such as lavender to help you relax and unwind.
Doing some simple stretches to ease out any stiffness and relax your body and breathing.
Journaling an hour beforehand can help to get out any tensions from the day, resolve issues and find a sense of peace and gratitude, ensuring your mind is ready for sleep.
And an extra tip: Avoid having any kind of big discussions with your partner, or anyone else, before bed. Not only are you probably not in the best space to be having these kind of conversations, but they will also start to wake up your brain, which means a crappy night ahead.
Like anything, getting the perfect night of sleep can be a case of trial and error, and there will always be times when things just don't go according to plan, but committing to making sleep a priority in your life, for your health, wellbeing and longevity, is the first step.