Health & Wellness

Many women can't sleep and the health consequences can be huge

If sleep feels more elusive as you age, you’re not alone in tossing and turning and facing the morning drained.

More than a third of women in their 40s and 50s — 35 percent — get less than seven hours of sleep a day, according to an analysis from the National Center for Health Statistics published Thursday. Almost half don’t wake up feeling rested, a finding that particularly stood out for Anjel Vahratian, the paper’s author and a supervisory statistician at NCHS.

“That just seemed like a significant portion of the population,” Vahratian told TODAY. When a person’s amount or quality of sleep isn’t optimal, “it may have short- or long-term implications on their health,” she added.

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Sleep deprivation brings health risks

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Sleep deprivation brings health risks

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The findings are based on data from 2,852 non-pregnant women between the ages of 40 and 59 who took part in the 2015 National Health Interview Survey. Overall, almost 20 percent of women in this age group had trouble falling asleep and more than a quarter had a hard time staying asleep most days of the week.

Hormones seem to play a key role

“Women may be particularly vulnerable to sleep problems during times of reproductive hormonal change, such as after [menopause],” the report notes.

Indeed, postmenopausal women were significantly more likely to have poor quality of slumber. They were also much more likely to sleep less than seven hours a night. One of the most common complaints perimenopausal and menopausal women have are night sweats and hot flashes, which tend to be more prevalent at night, said Dr. Nina Ali, an OB/GYN at Baylor Obstetrics and Gynecology at Texas Children’s Pavilion for Women in Houston.

“Some women have those almost hourly through the night, so that’s likely one of the major factors,” Ali noted. “Certainly, if you’re waking up due to this hot, flushing feeling — that involves a disturbed night of sleep.”

Other changes impacting slumber can happen during midlife for women: Sometimes, they have more urinary frequency at night, or they experience anxiety or depression around their menopause, Ali said.

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Need a good night's sleep? 9 tips for bedtime peace

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Need a good night's sleep? 9 tips for bedtime peace

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The issue goes beyond feeling tired

“Sleep is so critical for optimal health and well-being,“ Vahratian said. Not getting enough is linked to a higher risk for heart disease and diabetes, the paper points out.

Many people believe poor sleep is a normal part of aging, but that’s not the case, the American Academy of Sleep Medicine notes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults up to age 64 get seven to nine hours of sleep a night, the same amount as people in their 20s.

Poor sleep is associated with a poorer quality of life, AASM adds. Older adults who have trouble sleeping at night are more likely to be depressed, have attention and memory problems, suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness and use more sleeping pills.

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Do you really need 8 hours of sleep? Separating myth from fact

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Do you really need 8 hours of sleep? Separating myth from fact

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What you can do to improve sleep:

Try to pinpoint the cause of troubles: If hot flashes or night sweats are interrupting your sleep, they can be managed with medications, Ali said.

Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep: Try to stay on a schedule, get rid of any electronics before bed and make sure your bedroom is dark and cool, she recommended. Be careful about what are you eating and drinking before you go to sleep.

Talk to your doctor: Physicians are now recognizing how prevalent sleep problems are, Ali said. “The more women come in and talk to their providers about it, the more we can do something to try to help them,” she noted. “Sleep is very important… so it’s something that is worthwhile to bring up when you see your primary care provider or OB/GYN.”

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