Some of the most common questions we receive has to do with brain health. Women are scared of “losing their minds”, developing Alzheimer’s disease or another type of dementia, and becoming unable to care for themselves.
Sleep disturbance or insomnia is not uncommon in women starting at midlife. While this may be due to a physical concern, usually it’s not. Let’s discuss some things you can do NOW to improve your sleep.
- Good sleep is a component of good health. Things that you do for good health are essential and will directly impact your quality of sleep. This means eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and good daily multivitamin/mineral supplements.
- A healthy diet that is high in phytoestrogens such as fruits and vegetables may help if the cause of your sleep disturbance happens to be related to being perimenopausal. Apples, carrots, cherries, green beans, oats, peas, potatoes, soybeans and sprouts – just to mention a few!
- Avoid stimulating agents such as nicotine and caffeine – that includes coffee, tea, soft drinks, and chocolate. Even one cup of coffee in the morning can affect sleep quality hours later. We, as women, tend to metabolize caffeine much slower than men. If you smoke or chew tobacco, quit. Short of that, avoid smoking/chewing within a few hours of going to bed.
- Sleep in a dark room. (How bright is your illuminated clock?)
- Develop a sleep routine: going to bed at the same time; rituals such as having a cup of relaxing tea and then washing up, and the like.
- Avoid taking naps.
- Is your sleeping space comfortable? Look at light, noise and temperature. How about your bed? Is it too firm or too soft?
- Avoid late night heavy meals. However, a light snack at bedtime may be helpful.
- Try relaxation – mediate, take a bath, listen to soft music, read a gentle book, get a massage.
- Avoid the news and other violent or emotional stimulation before bed! It’s hardly relaxing!
- Avoid alcohol late in the day. It can cause waking in the night and impairs sleep quality.
- Limit your bed activities to sleep and sex.
- If you cannot sleep – get up and do something until you can sleep.
- If worries are keeping you awake, try journaling – it may provide a way for you to “release” the worry onto paper and thus relax and sleep.
- There are natural supplements that can be tried. If you are a milk drinker, consider having a glass of warm milk. Milk when it is warm releases tryptophan, the same substance that was in that Thanksgiving turkey that had you napping. On the other hand, I recently read that warm milk also has substances that can keep you awake. Let your own body tell you what it likes about milk.
Other suggestions include valerian root, melatonin, passion flower and of course the chamomile, catnip, anise or fennel teas. Some companies package teas in their own formulations for sleep, such as “Sleepy Time”. Your local herbalist or health food store may also be able to give you suggestions. As with anything else, the key to try different things and see what you respond to.
If none of these suggestions work, I would recommend the following.
First of all, see your see your health care provider to ensure there is nothing physical that needs to be attended to. Keep a sleep diary for 3 months with the goal to see if there is some sort of pattern. Keep track of the time you go to bed, awaken, how often you are awake and/or up at night. Are you tired when you awaken in the morning? What time are you getting up? Is there something that is on your mind? Does any of this correlate with your cycles (if you still have them).
Use of sleeping medication is something that can sometimes be used to get your body back on track, but it’s not for long term use, and should only be used when other remedies have been ineffective.
For additional information you may want to check the sites below:
Are you tired of reading that by taking the latest and greatest supplement, you can reverse the aging process, cure or prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, or reverse those well deserved wrinkles and gray hair? Me too.
In truth, you can do much to protect your brain. It’s not always fool proof, and you have to do the work…but like anything health related, your actions will have a direct impact on your health.
1. Body Exercise – Not only will exercise protect your brain, it will protect your entire body. It keeps you strong and agile (reducing your chance of falls), keeps your bones strong (reducing your risk of Osteoporosis and thus fractures), strengthens your heart (helping to prevent hypertension and heart disease), boosts your metabolic rate (by increasing your muscle strength, plus as a bonus you maintain or even lose weight), improve the efficiency of all your metabolic processes (lowers cholesterol, reduces glucose in your blood), and improves the flow of oxygen to your brain. And those are only a few of the benefits!
2. Brain Exercise – This is vital…surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Use it or Lose It”. Well, when it comes to the brain, take this literally – cognitive function declines when we don’t use our brains. So what can you do? If you don’t read…start. Do your figuring on paper instead of a calculator. Work puzzles and brain teasers. Stress yourself a bit and change how you are performing your daily activities…use your right hand instead of your left (if you are left handed like me), drive a different way to work, or get dressed in the dark by touch only (and then laugh at the results).
3. Speaking of Laughter – make sure you do this every day. It releases good chemicals into your blood stream, increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and generally just feels good. And you get to exercise those smile muscles.
4. Play Video games – yep you read that correctly. Several companies have begun to market video games that have “brain teasers”, but any type of game that has you thinking outside the box (strategy, mystery, etc) will probably do. Now…do you think you can get the game cube (or other device) away from your children/grandchildren?
5. Put yourself in new situations – for example, traveling allows you to see, taste and do different things.
6. Eat your Spinach! – Mounting evidence shows that all of us should have listened to the common sense of our mothers! The latest research is showing that folic acid may improve cognitive function. We’ve known for a long time that folks who have a high level of something called homocystine have trouble with blood vessels and an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks. It seems that risk also includes the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. So what is folic acid? It’s a water soluble B vitamin found in yeast extract, green leafy vegetables (among other vegetables), and dried beans and peas to mention a few).
7. Include foods high in antioxidants in your diet. – The top 5 foods include small red beans, blueberries, red kidney beans, pinto beans and cranberries. Also high include artichokes, blackberries, prunes, raspberries, strawberries, and apples. Yum!
8. Consider a Mediterranean diet. – This would include a diet that has a high intake of vegetables, legumes, fruits, cereals; high intake of unsaturated fatty acids (mostly olive oil), but a low intake of saturated fatty acids; a moderately high intake of fish; a low to moderate intake of dairy products (mostly cheese or yogurt); a low intake of meat and poultry; and a regular but moderate intake of alcohol, primarily wine and with meals.
9. Supplements? – Well, it’s a mixed bag as far as evidence based medicine goes. While your best bet is eating a well balanced diet with lots of vegetables, there are studies that look at the various components of a diet such as folic acid, and natural Vitamin E, Vitamin C and Vitamin B12.
10. Socialize! – Get involved with family, friends and your community. Research has shown us that the folks who are regularly engaged in social interaction with others maintain their brain vitality. This mean the more socially active you are, the better.
Of course none of these work in isolation. It’s vital that you combine all of them for the best physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.
Not long ago I received a note from a woman in her mid twenty’s expressing her fear of aging. She felt it was out of control and only keeping her from growing into the woman she is meant to be. She does not think poorly of older women, and in fact started her note with “I have seen many gracefully aged women and thought they are fantastic”.
However, she then continued listing some of the things that she is fearful of such as weight gain and the loss of identity, youthful looks, attractiveness, freedom, style and personality (especially around becoming a mother). There are also those unknown fears which she sums up as the “loss of God knows what”.
Sadly, this young woman’s fears are not unfounded. Many cultures in our world are youth oriented. We are bombarded daily with advertisements to look younger, thinner and more hip. TV, magazines, and music videos dictate our hair styles, fashions, and behaviors. Not only that, but if we happen to be old enough to have gray hair or any FINE lines around our eyes, we are directed to the appropriate product to erase any signs of aging.
Is it any wonder that many of us are fearful? The stereotypes around us are so misleading!
We see images of “little old ladies” that may walk hunched over, are poor, and at the mercy of dishonest people. While some images show men aging with distinction, we also see women who are just old, dry and helpless. Hogwash!
While it is true that our bodies and minds do change with age, I happen to believe that we really do get better as we mature. So, allow me to address some of the fears listed above.
- Loss of Identity. I’ve only, in the past few years really begun to learn who I am. I’ve come into my own. I’m more self confident than ever before (and I still have a way to go!).
- Loss of Youthful looks. I’m going to be 49 in a few days. I do not wish to look like 25. Granted I don’t have lots of wrinkles (only a few very fine lines…they are staying, thank you!) and have only a bit of gray hair that I’ve been cultivating for many years.
- Weight gain. Yes it’s common, but it’s not the rule of thumb. You might notice a slight change in figure even without gaining weight. There is actually a health benefit to being a few pounds heavier, rather than be very thin as you age.
- Loss of attractiveness. I’ve found that my own definition of beauty changes over time. I happen to think that women are actually more attractive. There is a depth and beauty that comes only with age.
- Loss of freedom and personality. I’ve heard many women say aging gives them a freedom that is just not possible when we are younger. I think this is especially true for those of us that are mothers. When we become mothers, we take on a role that is 24/7. However as our children grow, we begin to carve out time and activities that are just for ourselves.
- Loss of style. While I’m not sure I understand this fear, I do know that with age, I find freedom to create who I am without the dictates of the latest, greatest fashion. Since we are surer of ourselves, we have the freedom to experiment and play with who we are, and the image we want to put out there for the world to see. Personal Style at its best!
While some look at growing older as a time of loss, many women see this time of their lives differently. There is so much growth that happens as we age especially in the emotional, spiritual and yes, physical arenas. In order to make the most of getting older, it is vital that you live your life in a vibrant and healthy manner. Smile and laugh daily. Read. Eat well. Sleep well. And always engage in stimulating physical activity or at the very least exercise. Most of all, celebrate your journey through this life.
Baby Boomers. We started appearing in 1945 and the last of us was born in 1964. That puts me, born in 1955, right smack in the middle of the pack. I am one of millions of men and women who turn 50 this year…in my case, last week. So I’m not alone.
But wait…I am alone. It’s a very personal thing to turn 50. So many questions have come up.
- When did that happen?
- Where did all the years go?
- What is left in my life?
- Who am I and what does that mean?
- Am I the woman I thought I would be at 50? Who do I want to become?
- What’s next?
- Is there another membership card other than the AARP?
I’m the oldest child in my family. My mother jokingly says she’s not old enough to have a daughter who is half a century old. My brother sends me a card telling me it’s all downhill from here. At least my son thinks it’s kind of neat. The only people who really tell me that the best years are here are other women who are already 50 or older.
But what does this all mean to me? I never knew if I would reach 50. Not because of health problems or dangerous living, but because of genetics. My father died at age 47 and two of my sister before age 40. I was unable to “feel” my way here. Yet, here I am.
I’ve been trying to sort out what it feels like to have turned 50. I find that even speaking about it out loud is a bit difficult…partially because I’m still exploring what it means. It wasn’t too long ago that a woman over 29 never told her age. While I will admit to feeling a moment’s hesitation, for the most part, that has passed. On a recent trip, I was asked if I wanted the AARP discount. Huh? How did they know?
So, just what is it like to turn 50? I figure I have the entire year to find out and to grow into being 50. For now, I feel as if I have arrived. I feel more authentic. I have more autonomy and confidence than ever. While I get to be an adult now, the child in me gets to hand out and play…all with no excuses. And although there is some wisdom to be found, I’m confident I’ll discover lots more in the coming years.
In the meantime…I will celebrate and give thanks for my life, work on my list of things to do and accomplish before I leave this divine life, and continue to define and refine the woman I have become and am becoming.