Sometimes nighttime just isn’t what it used to be. In my younger days, once I fell asleep I was gone for the entire night. But as I’ve gotten older, it seems as if I wake up once or twice a night for no particular reason. And I hate that! Has it happened to you? You know, about 2:30 in the morning, suddenly there you lie staring at the ceiling. When it happens to me, more often than not I’m thinking about a problem, usually one from work.
Stress is never very far from my office, and sometimes it seems as if it’s
taken up permanent residence. But I’ve never understood why the stressful situations of my day have to interfere with getting a few decent hours of sleep at night. Until now.
Researchers in Hershey, Pennsylvania, recently studied the sleep patterns of a number of young and middle-aged men. As part of their project, they administered a stimulating hormone to each man about 10 minutes after he had fallen asleep. And what they found might explain why you and I don’t sleep quite like we did when we were in our 20s.
Once that hormone was administered, both the young and middle-aged men’s bodies responded by producing higher levels of other stress hormones. But only the middle-aged men woke up, or had less time in the restorative deep sleep. Younger men did not appear to suffer sleep-related problems because of the stresses from their hormones.
Scientists conducting the study believe that as you age, your body becomes more sensitive to stress hormones. This leads to fewer hours of deep sleep, and can even cause increased prevalence of insomnia as you enter middle age. It may also explain why older people seem to be more affected by caffeine, while younger people seemingly can linger in a coffee bar for hours before heading off for a good night’s sleep.
So what steps can you take to enhance the quality of your sleep? Well, avoiding caffeine is an obvious one. Sleep experts would also recommend you stop drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Establish a regular nightly bedtime, and stick to it. And make sure you get enough exercise, particularly during times of high stress.
But these physical steps are really only part of the strategy you’ll need to follow for a better night’s sleep. Almost 2,000 years ago a wise man wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV).(*) No matter what circumstances you may be facing, talk about them with Jesus. He stands ready to be the best possible buffer against the stresses of your life.