Midlife weight gain begins around the age of 45 for most women at the annual rate of an average one and half pounds and speeds up at menopause. Many of us add five pounds within the first year of hitting menopause, and the gain just keeps going. Packing on an extra one to five pounds every year means the scales will show an extra 50 pounds by your 55th birthday. Suddenly the usual exercise routine and healthy diet aren’t working any more.
Many OB-GYNs hear their over-40 patients complain that keeping weight off is a constant struggle no matter what they do. Despite the best efforts to count calories and watch portion sizes, the scales keep inching up.
Doctors know that getting enough shuteye is a priority for mid-life women who worry about weight. Losing even one night of sleep can hurt metabolism, according to studies, and about 35 percent of adults routinely get less than seven hours of sleep. The solution for many is getting back to a good night’s sleep.
What’s going on with hormones?
Perimenopausal and postmenopausal women can blame their sleepless nights on changes in two hormones. Cortisol levels rise and estrogen plummets at this time of life.
Midlife is notorious as a time of great stress, and stress can boost cortisol levels off the charts. Perimenopausal hot flashes and insomnia pile on even more stress when changes are already disrupting your life. Children are going off to college and leaving you with an empty nest. Aging parents deserve more attention. Spouses may face divorce or the death of a partner. Soon elevated cortisol levels are increasing your appetite and craving for sugar.
You’re eating more and putting on weight but not in the usual places. Even without gaining pounds, aging and declining estrogen shift extra inches to your midsection. Estrogen falls when a woman reaches her mid-40s to late-40s, and the drop in this important hormone does more than redistribute weight. Falling estrogen disrupts sleep, and sleeplessness contributes significantly to weight gain.
Why sleeplessness makes you fat.
How does a lack of a decent night’s sleep make you fat? Tiredness will discourage you from working out. Fatigue will encourage you to skip cooking nutritious meals and prompt you to reach instead for the pizza takeout menu. Lack of energy isn’t the only culprit adding to your weight gain.
Sleepless nights can wreck weight regulation hormones. The lack of a good night’s sleep can increase ghrelin, the hormone that encourages you to eat more and crave high-carb foods loaded with calories. Disrupted sleep also suppresses leptin, the hormone that tells you when to stop eating. The combination of more ghrelin and less leptin guarantees weight gain.
Make rest a priority. Try these tricks to get your sleep back on track.
Start a sleep diary. Track your sleep patterns so you can identify what’s keeping you awake.
Drink herbal tea. Research shows herbal teas like chamomile naturally calm the body for easier sleep.
Try aromatherapy. Breathing lavender essential oils can increase quality of sleep and reduce anxiety.
Put down the devices. Stop reading emails or surfing the Web once you get into bed.
Induce sleep with food. A dinner that combines lean protein and complex carbohydrates will stimulate calming neurotransmitters that help you doze off. Avoid saturated fats.
Mask outdoor nighttime noise. Turn on a fan or a white noise machine to drown out noise from noise from distant cars or overhead planes.
Block out light. Buy a light-blocking sleep mask. Add blackout curtains to your bedroom. Put all devices with glowing lights in another room.