As we get older, it becomes harder to get a good night’s sleep. Sleep problems are very disruptive to daytime activities and can also have a negative impact on our health and potential for achieving happiness. But fortunately, there are things older adults can do to improve the quality of their sleep.
- 1 Sleep And Ageing: An Unlikely Friendship?
- 1.1 The Benefits Of Good Sleep
- 1.2 Fourteen Science-Backed Tips For Better Sleep
- 1.2.1 Bedtime ritual
- 1.2.2 No electronics in the bedroom
- 1.2.3 Avoid bright light
- 1.2.4 Beware of caffeine
- 1.2.5 Light dinner
- 1.2.6 Remove diuretics
- 1.2.7 Learn how to disconnect
- 1.2.8 Increase your activity levels
- 1.2.9 The right temperature
- 1.2.10 Choose mattress and pillows wisely
- 1.2.11 Don’t postpone bedtime
- 1.2.12 Daytime naps
- 1.2.13 Don’t toss and turn
- 1.2.14 Vitamins and good sleep
Sleep And Ageing: An Unlikely Friendship?
Some sleep problems are typically associated with the ageing process. Older adults often report that both the quality and quantity of their sleep is affected, as they become more sensitive to their environment, more likely to take medication that interferes with sleep, and more likely to experience other age-related conditions, such as producing less melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating sleep.
Other common problems include insomnia, multiple awakenings during the night, restless leg syndrome, and a reduction in the total number of sleep hours, as well as sleep apnea, whereby breathing gets blocked during sleep.
The Benefits Of Good Sleep
Sleeping better has a positive effect on our health, and scientific studies prove that some age-related conditions improve when we get enough restful sleep.
By contrast, good sleep brings benefits ranging from increased emotional well-being to better concentration, higher tolerance for pain, and a stronger immune system.
Fourteen Science-Backed Tips For Better Sleep
We are creatures of habit and as we age, our threshold for changes in our daily routine becomes lower. Consistency in our bedtime routine helps set our brains in the right mood and sends the signal that it’s time to switch off for the day. Plus, an unwinding routine can help counter any triggers that cause us to stay awake, so do whatever helps your body and mind relax, whether it is listening to music, aromatherapy, writing in your journal, meditating, or self-massage.
No electronics in the bedroom
Try not to use the bedroom as a second living room or office, but rather for the purpose for which it is intended. Studies have shown that exposure to blue light (light given off by electronic devices) interferes with our ability to sleep, so if you’ve grown used to reading on your e-reader, phone, or tablet before bed, it may be time to switch back to printed books. If you must use your electronic devices, change the brightness settings or use a blue-light blocking app.
Avoid bright light
In addition to blue light, bright light (regular light bulbs) can also disrupt sleep patterns. Studies have found that bright home lighting interferes with melatonin and disrupts the circadian rhythm (our internal body clocks), making our bodies believe that the day is still young and delaying sleep onset. For better sleep, use dimmers or avoid bright light for at least 1 hour before bedtime, although some researchers recommend a longer window of up to 3 hours.
Beware of caffeine
Caffeine is not only present in coffee or tea (including decaf varieties), but also in chocolate, energy bars, some soft and diet drinks, and ice cream that contains chocolate or coffee. Stimulants cause an increase in blood pressure and stress hormones, which is not what you want right before going to bed.
It’s important to find out what your “cut-off” time for caffeine is, and be aware that it may change as you get older, as some studies report that caffeine sensitivity changes as we age.
You should also take into account that caffeine interacts with certain medications that are usually prescribed to older adults, so if you have recently started taking drugs to treat asthma or respiratory disease, antibiotics, estrogen, thyroid medication, or any drugs that slow down blood clotting, talk to your doctor about possible interactions.
When planning your dinner, it’s best to avoid eating spicy, salty, or oily foods and try to reduce or avoid altogether foods that contain starches and simple carbs, such as pasta or bread. These are hard to digest, can induce heartburn, and cause insulin levels to spike – and you may also experience a sugar crash in the middle of the night.
Tea and fruit juices are common diuretics (foods that makes us urinate), but you should also be aware of less obvious culprits, such as celery, cucumber, watermelon, ginger, asparagus, lemon, beetroot, cabbage, and pineapple. Plan your dinner so that there’s a small amount of any foods that contain a high amount of water.
Learn how to disconnect
It’s easy to use the time we have before we fall asleep to go over our day, but this can easily turn into a formula for worry or rumination. Instead, replace this habit with something that sets your mind on a positive note, such as writing a gratitude journal, meditating, doing yoga, etc.
Also, choose carefully your bedtime reading materials, since anything intellectually demanding or even a highly engaging thriller may cause your brain to go into alert mode.
Increase your activity levels
Physical activity can help you sleep better, as long as you find the right time to exercise. Working out before bed may not be not conducive to a good night’s sleep since exercise increases the heart rate and releases stress hormones like adrenaline. Generally speaking, it’s recommended to avoid exercising within 3 hours of bedtime.
The right temperature
Bedrooms need to be set up in a way that helps you unwind and fall asleep easily. Pay special attention to temperature, because as we age, circulation to hands and feet lessens and it’s easier to feel cold. A study found that having warm feet helped people fall asleep faster, so use an electric blanket, socks, or even a good old hot water bottle to warm up. And although everyone is different, research points at the ideal bedroom temperature somewhere around 20 °C.
Choose mattress and pillows wisely
The ageing process changes our bodies, and having good support for the spine and neck becomes particularly important. If you have trouble falling asleep or wake up feeling tired and aching, it may be time to replace your mattress and pillows. Scientists found that a medium-firm mattress can help with back pain, which is common in older adults. Less pain = better sleep!
Don’t postpone bedtime
Most of us rely on an alarm to wake up, but setting an alarm to remind you it’s time to go to bed may be useful if you find yourself postponing your bedtime again and again. This will help you establish a routine and train your body and mind to go to bed at the same time every night.
Naps can help us feel more alert and rested, but try not to nap for more than 30 minutes and try to do it at the same time every day (but not in the evenings). Naps should not replace lost sleep at night, otherwise you will be aggravating sleep problems and making it harder to get into a regular night-time sleep routine.
Don’t toss and turn
Being aware of the fact that “sleep is not happening” may cause you to feel stressed and anxious, creating a catch-22 situation that will not help you get better sleep. If you’re in bed and can’t sleep, get out of bed and read, write, or do any other soothing activity that’s part of your night-time ritual until you feel sleepy. This works much better than taking a sleeping pill!
Vitamins and good sleep
Vitamin deficiency is one of the causes of insomnia since some B-group vitamins play a key role in the production of melatonin. But at the same time, taking certain vitamins right before going to bed can be counter-productive. A US study revealed that vitamin users were more likely to wake up during the night, and while the exact link between vitamins and sleep quality is not confirmed, you may want to choose another time to take vitamins and supplements to be on the safe side.
Although the ageing process can negatively affect our ability to get a restful night of sleep, you should remember that you’re not powerless. There are little changes you can make to increase your chances of enjoying better sleep, feeling more alert, and achieving happiness and a healthier lifestyle irrespective of your age.
Modelphotos by Colourbox.com