Most of us know from experience that tossing and turning at night means feeling awful the next day. And many of us understand that there are long-term health consequences when we don’t sleep well.
But I recently discovered something new from a fascinating study on sleep and its effect on how quickly the genes of postmenopausal women age, known as their “epigenetic age.” (Carroll et al. 2017)
In the study, postmenopausal women with 5 insomnia symptoms were almost 2 years biologically older than similar women without insomnia symptoms. The more symptoms of insomnia… waking up at night, not being able to get back to sleep, sleep disturbances, etc. — the greater the effect. However, if you sleep just 6 hours a night, it doesn’t seem to increase your epigenetic age, as long as it’s restful sleep. And that, of course, is where many of us have problems.
So what can we do about it? I like to point out that research shows that our genes are not completely out of our control and that we can influence how they respond by taking better care of ourselves. For those of us who are past menopause and may be having trouble sleeping, this means looking for ways we can improve our sleep.
4 sleep tips you should try
- Keep a regular schedule. Your brain likes consistency, so go to bed at 11 a.m. at the same regular time every night and in a dark room. When you get up, immediately take advantage of the morning light, either by going outside or by opening a window. Ensuring proper lighting is key to your circadian health.
- Turn off the electronics! Computers, televisions, telephones – they are all enemies of sleep. Even a brief duration of light shining in your eyes tricks your brain into thinking it’s time to wake up. Turn off at least an hour before bed every night without fail, and place 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 in moderation. Large meals too close to bedtime disrupt sleep, while avoiding caffeine and stimuli (such as dramatic or stressful TV shows) can also help you fall asleep.
- Keep relaxing once in bed. Once in bed, consider practicing relaxing abdominal breathing or guided imagery like the ones in yoga nidra.
You can see some of my favorite sleep remedies in the checklist above, including natural ones. 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 symptoms of insomnia: findings from the Women’s Health Initiative studyBiological Psychiatry 81(2):136-144.
Am Dr Susan E Brown. I am a clinical nutritionist, medical anthropologist, writer and motivationalist. spokesman. Learn about my time-tested, natural 6-step approach to bone health at my online courses.