Did you know there is a decline in deep sleep or deep non-rapid eye movement as you age?  For those of you who are running on your 8th cup of coffee of the day you likely won’t be surprised at this.  But data suggests that by the age of 50, you only get 50% of the deep sleep that you did when you were a teenager! 

Now, it would be easy to accept this fact and think it’s just something we must get used to, but here at Beyond 40 we want to optimise health over 40 and that includes your sleep.  We may not be able to completely change the biological processes that result in these sleep changes, but we can use strategies to give us the best chance of improved sleep as we age. 

Let’s take a look at sleep architecture and our top tips for optimising sleep over 40.

Sleep Architecture

Sleep architecture refers to the basic structural organisation of normal sleep.  There are two types of sleep, non-rapid eye-movement (NREM) sleep and rapid eye-movement (REM) sleep. NREM sleep is divided into stages 1, 2, 3, and 4, representing a continuum of depth. Each has unique characteristics including variations in brain wave patterns, eye movements, and muscle tone.

REM and NREM sleep alternate cyclically.  Irregular cycling and/or absent sleep stages are associated with sleep disorders.

Sleep architecture changes continuously and considerably with age. From infancy to adulthood, there are marked changes in how sleep is initiated and maintained along with alterations to the percentage of time spent in each stage of sleep.  Sleep efficiency changes as we age, with the general trend that it declines.

It’s essential to promote good sleep hygiene no matter our age, but we often don’t realise how poor our sleep habits were, until we get older.

Promoting Good Sleep

  • Start and end your day with natural light.

Natural light as close to sunrise and sunset helps to reorganise and structure the body’s natural sleep and wake cycle.  Melatonin is the main hormone we are interested here; it regulates night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles.  Melatonin signals the body for sleep, and it is produced when it’s dark.  Light decreases melatonin production which signals the body for wakefulness.  If we’re exposed to false light at night, melatonin production is reduced, meaning we stay awake for longer.  So, try to keep your light exposure as close to the normal sleep-wake cycle as possible.

  • Use blue blockers.

On the subject of light, blue light from computers, tablets or televisions is the number one enemy when it comes to sleep.  As we mentioned, artificial light suppresses melatonin production.

Consider looking at blue blockers for screen time and try to disconnect from technology completely for a couple of hours before bed. 

  • Increase oxygen levels during sleeping.

If you can, open your window a crack at night – if you aren’t comfortable with this, try to open your window for 30 minutes before bed and then close it again.  Also consider having houseplants in your bedroom too.  Some of the best “oxygen boosting” plants include:

  • Aloe Vera,
  • Areca Palm,
  • Snake Plant,
  • Peace Lily

These plants are also great for purifying the air by eliminating harmful compounds.

  • Avoid excitotoxins in your diet.

Excitotoxins are found in many processed foods.  They are generally added for flavour or as a preservative.  The issue, like the name suggests is that they are excitatory, meaning that excess amounts can excite neurons to the point of death.  Neurons are found in the nervous system, and they are the cells responsible for receiving input from the environment and sending commands out.  So, if they are overexcited, you can see how you end up with an overexcited nervous system, which, isn’t a great recipe for a good night’s sleep.

You tend to find excitotoxins in processed foods, but they do go by a range of names including:

  • Carrageenan,
  • MSG,
  • Aspartame,
  • E numbers,
  • BHT and other preservatives,

Limit or avoid these products and see if it aids your sleep.

  • Give grounding a whirl.

Studies have shown that walking barefoot outside improves both sleep and mood. 

But why?

The surface of the Earth contains a limitless and continuous renewed supply of free or mobile electrons.  When the body comes into contact with them, they can enter the body.  It is thought that these electrons have wide ranging effects on the body’s immune and inflammatory responses. 

It is also thought that the Earth’s potential plays a role in setting body clocks, regulating the diurnal body rhythm and also cortisol secretion.  In patients suffering disturbed sleep, grounding is associated with:

  • Falling asleep more quickly,
  • Fewer times waking during the night,
  • Improved fatigue levels in the morning,
  • Increased daytime energy,

Those beach walks are not only good for your mood but for your sleep too!

  • Consider Your Nutrient Status.

There are a number of nutrients that support healthy sleep patterns.  It is worth exploring your nutrient status, but also if you have any genetic glitches that may affect your ability to utilise said nutrients. 

For example, magnesium has been seen to increase sleep times and sleep efficiency whilst reducing time taken to fall asleep, early morning waking and serum cortisol levels.

Additional data has suggested that low levels of vitamin A, C, D, E and K along with calcium are associated with sleep issues too.

We advocate a food first approach where possible, but we can help with individualised advice.

In addition, there are age-related considerations to make.

  • Women – seek help for hot flashes.

Hormonal shifts play a huge role in why women struggle to sleep.  For sufficient sleep, the body naturally drops in temperature.  For women, whether they are cycling, in perimenopause or have hit the menopause, hormonal alterations influence body temperature and can subsequently affect sleep. 

Manage the room temperature but also seek advice on managing any hot flash symptoms you are having.  Opt for cotton sheets if you can, you’ll thank us later.

  • Get screened for sleep apnoea.

Although it’s more common in men, women can also suffer with sleep apnoea.  This is a condition where you stop breathing for a few seconds at a time.  Not only does this condition affect your sleep, but your overall health. 

If you snore or you wake up feeling exhausted despite logging long sleep hours, it may be something to discuss with your doctor. 

We often forget that sleep is essential.  But, before researchers were answerable to ethics committees and alike, they realised that depriving animals of sleep would eventually result in death.  Whilst we aren’t necessarily sleep deprived in this sense, we are often sleep poor.  In optimising our health, we need to optimise all pillars, and that includes sleep.

Thanks for reading,

Beyond 40 Team