How Much Sleep Do You Need in Midlife?
Hustle culture glamorizes the idea of getting very little sleep in order to accomplish more throughout the day. But the truth is, getting enough rest is non-negotiable, if you want to be healthy, feel good, and get things done with a clear head. But as important as it is to get enough sleep, it’s also important to avoid oversleeping.
A study in the journal Nature Aging found that middle and older-aged adults should ideally get seven hours of sleep a night. Researchers found that sleeping both above or below that number of hours correlated with a reduced ability to recall, learn new things, make decisions, and solve problems. Furthermore, those who got more or less than seven hours a night reported more feelings of anxiety, depression, and worse overall well-being.
As this was one study with a limited sample population, the correlations aren’t evidence of causation. But they can help us think about sleep in midlife.
How perimenopause and menopause can affect sleep
Though oversleeping can be just as harmful as undersleeping, let’s be honest: women in their perimenopause and menopause years tend to struggle with sleeplessness and not getting enough rest. In the 2015 National Health Interview Survey, researchers found:
More than one in four middle-aged women reported having trouble falling and staying asleep four or more times throughout the week.
More than one in three women reported getting fewer than seven hours of sleep per night, on average.
Perimenopausal women were the least likely to sleep seven or more hours a night.
Several factors can contribute to sleep loss during perimenopause and menopause. Most importantly, fluctuating hormone levels can make it difficult to shift into rest mode. Circulating estrogen in the body can increase levels of the hormone cortisol, which leads to feelings of restlessness and anxiety. Furthermore, fluctuating estrogen levels can lead to hot flashes and night sweats, which make sleeping uncomfortable and can decrease the overall quality.
But it’s not just the hormones that can affect sleep. Mental health, lifestyle choices, and underlying health problems could be more to blame for sleep problems than menopause. Exploring and addressing the sources of your sleep deprivation will help you reevaluate your sleep hygiene habits and possibly re-tool them to better fit this new stage of your life.
A good night’s sleep starts during your day. Upping your physical activity doesn’t just help tire you out — it also reduces feelings of anxiety that would otherwise keep you up at night. Avoid stimulants like alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine, especially in the evening hours. Keep a consistent nighttime routine: 30 minutes before your bedtime, start to unwind, unplug and quiet the mind. Go to bed at the same time every night and create a comfortable, dark environment that is conducive to rest. Make sure your room is cool and the bedding is comfortable, and consider adding elements like a humidifier to soothe dry and tight skin.