The vicious cycle begins: Suboptimal sleep throws the sleep-inducing neurochemicals out of whack, and this in turn leads to more suboptimal sleep. Inadequate sleep amps up the inflammatory system and causes you to store excess body fat, both of which increase your chances of getting sick and sleeping less.
Night Quirks You May Experience as You Age
- Our hormonal symphony orchestra is designed to play perk-up music (more cortisol, less melatonin) during the day and to switch to softer wind-down music at night (more melatonin, less cortisol). As we age, this hormonal harmony becomes less sleep-inducing: Cortisol stays higher at night, and melatonin stays lower.
- We enjoy less slow-wave—or deep—sleep. This is the state of sleep in which our immune and repair systems are most active.
- The amount of melatonin that the brain makes during sleep declines with age. Since melatonin is primarily secreted during the stage of deep sleep, the aging brain does not enjoy as much of this sleep aid.
- We tend to put on more belly fat, which itself contributes to hormonal imbalances that disturb sleep.
- Hormone fluctuations during menopause can keep women awake. An enlarged prostate, and the consequent full-bladder sensation, makes men get up to go.
- Quirks in the gut, such as heartburn and indigestion, are also more common as we age and can disrupt sleep patterns.