How To Sleep Well As You Age

Tips and Tricks for a Good Night’s Sleep

Old Lady Sleeps

EDITOR: I welcome today’s guest article by Beth Wallace since we’re coming up on Insomnia Awareness Week (April 1-7), and since earlier this week I described the Emerging Sleep Wellness Market while announcing an expanded mission of Modern Health Talk that includes sleep, along with nutrition and exercise, as the pillars of good health.

Whether you’re a newborn, a teenager or a senior, sleep will always play a vital role in your physical and emotional wellbeing. Sleep does plenty for us that we may be unaware of, from repairing damaged cells, to improving memory, to even giving our busy minds some peace and quiet when we most need it. As we age, getting regular sleep continues to be important, and while many of us lead busy lives with many responsibilities, it remains necessary to make getting a good nights sleep a priority.

Sleep quality can make or break a person the next day. You’re probably familiar with how it feels waking up after a terrible night of tossing and turning, just as well as you might know how good you can feel after a solid night of deep sleep. As you get older and witness changes in your body and lifestyle, you’ll also experience changes in your sleeping patterns.  In old age, it’s not uncommon to experience the following:

  1. Getting tired and falling asleep earlier in the evening
  2. Sleeping fewer hours and waking up earlier in the morning
  3. Waking up more frequently during the night
  4. Having a harder time adjusting to new sleeping environments ie. hotel rooms

While some may attribute these changes to the myth that seniors need less sleep, experts suggest that seniors, just like adults, get seven and a half to nine hours of sleep per night. Fewer hours of sleep on a regular basis can lead to negative implications especially for seniors, including poor memory, irritability, and an increased likelihood of accidents due to feeling sleepy during the day.

A major reason behind these changes in sleep patterns is the fact that seniors enjoy less time in deep, restful sleep despite the number of hours they sleep. A study on sleep and memory at University of California’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory explained that deep, slow wave sleep was up to 75% worse in older participants. Without quality slow wave sleep, seniors may wake up feeling less rested, leading to sleepiness during the day.

Lack of slow wave sleep explains why seniors have memory difficulties, as discovered through the same study. As a result of fewer hours in deep sleep, older participants performed 55% worse on a simple memory test the next day than participants in their 20s, despite getting the same hours of rest. This study, along with others is being used to help understand and combat dementia and Alzheimer’s, as researchers explore ways to help induce deep sleep for seniors to prevent such circumstances.

While enjoying less deep sleep is inevitable in old age, there are still a few things you can do to facilitate getting a good night’s sleep without frequent interruptions.

Nap Wisely

While it helps to take a nap during the day if you’re feeling sleepy, it’s important to recognize what constitutes as a helpful powernap and what does not. If you’re a siesta fan, do not allow yourself to nap for more than half an hour. By keeping your naptime short, you will only access the early stages of your sleep cycle and feel refreshed when you wake up. Allowing yourself to drift into deeper stages of sleep by extending a nap to last a couple of hours will make you feel irritable when you wake up, and secondly will affect your sleep later on that night when you find yourself in bed at bedtime but lie wide awake. Be sure to set an alarm for your naps to get the most out of them.

Set A Sleep Schedule and Routine

Try your very best to set a schedule for sleeping by getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, and avoiding sleeping in on weekends. Just like with eating schedules, your body will adapt much better if it knows what to expect on a daily basis. This way, when it’s time for bed, your body and mind will already be winding themselves down expecting sleep as you make it to bed for the night.

There are also a few things you can do on a daily basis that might help you fall asleep more quickly when you hit the pillow. Before bed every night, do a couple of activities to help prepare you for bed, like reading a book, taking a hot bath or listening to calming music. Be sure to also stay away from computer screens and TVs before you sleep. Bright screens will only help to keep your mind active and reduce your brain’s production of melatonin, the hormone secreted to bring on sleepiness.

Get Exercise and Sunshine

Get regular exercise and sunshine throughout the day. It’s recommended to get about 20 minutes of aerobic exercise a day which you can get from jogging, walking, or perhaps taking a class that suits your interests a few times a week. If you’re an avid exerciser, keep it up, as working out will help to tire out your body for bedtime later on. Exposing yourself to more sunshine when it’s sunny out is also useful in helping your body understand when it’s day (time to stay active) and when it’s night (time to wind down for bed), and the melatonin rule applies here too.

Watch When (and What) You Eat

Both what you eat and when you eat can play a role in how well you sleep too. Large meals right before you go to bed can keep you up as your digestive system works hard through the night, but a light snack before bedtime can be helpful in making you feel full and drowsy. Avoid caffeine in the evenings, and perhaps switch to a decaf of sleepy tea for your last beverage of the day. With that said, avoid drinking too much in the evenings to prevent sleep interruptions for bathroom breaks in the middle of the night.

Can’t Sleep? Get Up!

Condition your mind to think of your bed and bedroom as only a place for sleeping. Keep your bedroom dark and free from distractions like TVs and fish tanks that might keep you awake. Should you go to bed and still be awake about half an hour later, get out of bed and do a couple of things around the house and return to bed when you’re sleepy. This way your mind will learn that bed is only for sleeping and will start to switch itself off more quickly when you get to bed.

Good sleep helps us to rewire, recharge, relax and is a vital part of our lives throughout the ages. As you age and experience changes in your sleep patterns, always try your best to understand them and manage the aspects that are in your control.

About the AuthorBeth Wallace

Beth Wallace is a Safety Specialist for Canadian Safe Step Walk-In Tub Co. She visits the homes of Canadian seniors to show them how they can make their homes safer. Beth wants every senior to have the chance to bathe without the fear and risk of falling. Follow Beth’s journey to make every senior’s bathing experience the best it can be on Google+ and Twitter.

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