Sleeping well as you get older

aging, olumia, rest, tips

Man sleeping


Sleep is always an essential part of keeping healthy, but it plays an increasing role in our health as we get older. As we age we still require the same amount of sleep as other adults (about 7 to 9 hours each night), but older folks often find themselves needing to try new strategies and habits in order to get that sleep.

Understanding what is changing and how to mitigate and live with changes in sleep is an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Careful what you put into your body

Obviously, there are a lot of things in your body that change after 50. Rather than dive into all of those, let’s look at the ones that can affect your ability to get a good night’s rest. For women, the hot flashes and change in hormone levels of menopause are common reasons for waking up at night.

The older body is generally more sensitive to ingested chemicals than in youth. Of particular importance are alcohol, caffeine and sugar, which all negatively affect how easy falling asleep (and staying asleep) can be. Cutting back on all three, especially later in the day, can help you sleep better. Here’s why:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol is kind of a classic nightcap. And it’s true that it can help you fall asleep. The biggest problem is that it also contributes to sleep fragmentation, meaning you don’t stay asleep.
  • Caffeine: This is an easy one. Caffeine, such as in coffee and tea, can keep you up at night. As we age, it’s effect can grow, so even a cup of joe in the morning can end up causing trouble that night. On top of that, coffee and tea are both diuretics, and can exacerbate the problem of sleep-time trips to the bathroom.
  • Sugar: Getting a sugar buzz before bed is never a good idea for trouble-sleepers of any age. Sugar in general also contributes to various metabolic problems in the body that can also contribute to poor sleep issues.

On top of these three, it’s worth noting that tobacco is also an unhealthy habit that affects sleep. As with smoking or chewing tobacco at any age, it’s bad for you in pretty much every way possible.

Create an environment conducive to sleeping

Your bedroom, and your bed specifically, need to have only two primary functions: sex and sleep. Otherwise, you should not be in bed. If you refine your habits to only use your bed for one of two activities, your body will adjust to it, helping you fall asleep more quickly. In fact, there are lots of different things you can do outside the bedroom that will help you fall asleep. Together, these actions comprise a pre-bed routine. They include:

  • Dimming the lights in your home about an hour before bed.
  • Avoiding stressful or strenuous activities before bed.
  • Avoiding the light from smartphones, computer screens and HDTVs, which has been shown to disrupt sleep.
  • Lowering the temperature in the house by a few degrees.
  • Always going to bed at about the same time. (Waking up at the same time each morning helps as well.)
  • Do all you can to create a quiet environment. We sleep more lightly as we age, so avoiding noises at night is an even greater help than before.

What you can do while healthy sleep routines take effect

Overcoming sleep difficulties is not something that can be realistically accomplished overnight. So while you begin instituting a healthy pre-bed routine, there are plenty of tips for when nothing seems to be working.

Don’t try forcing sleep: If you’re tossing and turning in bed even after you’ve been lying down for about 20+ minutes, you’re better off taking a break from trying to sleep. Get out of bed and try reading a for a little. You need to basically “reset” your sleep routine for when you get back in bed.

Don’t get frustrated: It’s common for people of all ages to wake up at night. In fact, before we had street lamps and light bulbs, most people had a first sleep and second sleep each night. It’s entirely natural to wake up for an hour or so at night; just don’t get angry about it. If you’re worked up over something, it’s that much harder to fall asleep again.

Get active: Exercise, particularly cardio exercises like walking, swimming and tennis, has been shown to improve sleep patterns in people of all ages.

Dress light for bed: Try to avoid heavy clothes when going to sleep. When wearing lightweight pajamas, you can improve the efficiency of your sleep.

Avoid sleeping pills unless your doctor prescribes them: Sleeping pills can help when used sporadically, but they can quickly become a crutch for your sleep routine and actually cause you more trouble down the line.

Try to avoid napping: You may be tired, but dozing off during the day can disrupt your body’s sleep schedule, making it harder to institute a pre-bed routine.

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