Most people understand getting enough sleep is important, but many don’t know why. Some causes of poor sleep quality increase as people age, such as normal hormonal changes and vitamin deficiency. The good news is there are steps that can be taken to increase both the amount and quality of sleep.

Why Sleep is So Important

Even a small amount of sleep loss impairs immune function. One clinical study found that people were three times more like to develop a cold when they had less than seven hours of sleep each night. Sleep also affects how glucose is metabolized and people sleeping less than six hours a night are at a higher risk for type-2 diabetes. A review of 15 clinical studies showed people who don’t get adequate amounts of sleep have a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

Sleep affects emotions. Too little sleep can contribute to depression, with an increased risk of suicide, and it is estimated that 90 percent of patients diagnosed with depression don’t get enough sleep. On the other hand, good sleep can increase concentration and maximize athletic performance.

Why Sleep Gets More Difficult with Aging

As people age their hormone production decreases, causing major problems with the sleep cycle. In turn, too little sleep can decrease hormonal production, creating a vicious, sleepless cycle.

During perimenopause and through menopause women have a gradual decrease in the production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, both of which promote sleep. Men similarly experience a drop in testosterone levels as they age.

Melatonin plays an important role in the sleep cycle as well, and production of this hormones decreases quite significantly after age 40. As published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, powerful evidence is available to demonstrate that lower levels of melatonin that occur later in life has a clinically-relevant relationship to insomnia observed in some older individuals.

Low levels of vitamin D can also cause sleeping problems, especially in older adults. Low vitamin D can not only affect the amount of sleep a person gets, but the quality as well.

Correcting Sleeping Loss

Increasing Hormonal Levels: Progesterone, Estrogen and Testosterone

Exercise has been proven to increase testosterone levels and estrogen levels. Exercise also changes how the body breaks down estrogen, in women, by increasing the ratio of beneficial to harmful estrogen metabolites. Just bear in mind exercising within an hour of bedtime has a tendency to slow the onset of sleep.

Increasing Melatonin

Melatonin is a natural hormone produced in the pineal gland of both men and women. Melatonin levels naturally increases at night, triggering sleepiness, and decrease in the morning when the sun rises. Melatonin boosts your production of growth hormone from the pituitary gland, which can also deepen sleep.  Aside from raising nighttime-plasma melatonin levels with supplements, there are a few ways to increase melatonin naturally:

Studies show that high levels of caffeine, sugar and processed foods decrease melatonin production.

Foods such as tart cherries, almonds, turkey and chicken all can boost melatonin.

Stress suppress melatonin and meditation has been shown to increase melatonin production. Plan some quiet time before bed.

Vitamin D

The Vitamin D Council recommends 1000 IU’s per each 25lbs are body weight daily; however, a blood test should be administrated to determine the level of deficiency. Sun exposure for 15 minutes a day during the summer months will naturally boost vitamin D production.