As we age, it is common to experience changes in our sleep patterns due to hormonal changes. Up to 75% of seniors (ages 65 and older) experience symptoms of insomnia, including feeling sleepy earlier, taking longer to fall asleep, frequent waking at night, and waking up earlier.
Though common, insomnia is not a normal part of aging. Seniors still need 7-9 hours of sleep each night for optimal health. Lack of sleep is linked to a greater risk of physical and mental health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, depression, memory issues, and a weakened immune system.
Good quality sleep is just as important to your health as nutrition, physical activity, and stress management. If you’re tired of counting sheep, these steps to a better night’s rest can help you get the sleep your body needs.
Develop a Sleep Schedule
Create and maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This helps train your brain to feel tired when it’s time for bed.
Avoid napping during the daytime hours, particularly in the late afternoon or evening. Naps may prevent you from falling asleep at night.
Develop a Bedtime Routine
Find ways that help you relax each night. You may want to take a warm bath, read a book, practice mindfulness meditation, or write in your journal. Relaxing before bedtime can help your mind and body wind down. A relaxing bedtime routine can help your brain and body wind down from the day and help you fall asleep.
Avoid Screens an Hour Before Bedtime
Though it may feel relaxing to watch your favorite TV show, play a game on your phone or read a book on your tablet before bed, electronic devices (e.g., televisions, smartphones, computers) emit blue light that has an adverse effect on your sleep. When you use an electronic before bed, your brain suppresses the production of melatonin — a hormone released by the pineal gland at night to promote sleep.
Make Your Bedroom a Sleep Sanctuary
Your sleep environment plays a big role in the quality of sleep you get. Noise, light and temperature changes can interrupt your sleep. Consider using blackout curtains if light enters your bedroom. If noise wakes you up at night, a white noise machine or fan may help block out disruptive sounds. Studies show that keeping your bedroom at a cool temperature (between 60-71 degrees Fahrenheit) helps promote deep sleep.
Avoid Large Meals Before Bedtime
Eating a large meal before bedtime can lead to acid reflux, indigestion, and frequent trips to the bathroom at night that can be disruptive to your sleep. But going to bed hungry can make it harder to sleep, too.
If you’re hungry at bedtime, eat a light snack like fruit, nuts, or drink a warm glass of milk. Avoid caffeine 6 hours before bedtime, as it can make it more difficult to fall asleep.
Drink Herbal Tea Instead of Alcohol
Though alcohol may make you sleepy and help you fall asleep, it can be disruptive to your sleep cycles. It can also worsen sleep disorders, such as insomnia and sleep apnea. Not only that, but drinking at night can have an effect on the next day, making you feel more groggy, less attentive, and struggle to carry out your day-to-day tasks.
Non-caffeinated herbal teas are a healthy alternative as a nighttime beverage. Chamomile and lavender teas can help you wind down, calm your mind, and encourage sleep.
Exercise During the Day
According to The Sleep Foundation, regular exercise can improve your time spent falling asleep, total sleep time, and the overall quality of sleep you get. Aim to get 30 minutes of exercise each day.
The type of exercise you do depends on your fitness and comfort levels. Walking, swimming, strength training and yoga are all excellent options for seniors. Try to get your exercise minutes in before 3 pm. This gives your body time to wind down after the surge of post-exercise endorphins while also ensuring you tire your body out in time for good sleep.
Talk To Your Doctor
If you practice good sleep habits and still struggle to fall asleep, talk with your healthcare provider about your sleep troubles. Research shows that cognitive behavioral therapy — a form of “talk therapy” — can help people with insomnia get better sleep. Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist or social worker who is trained in CBT to help improve your sleep.
Medications are also available both by prescription and over-the-counter to help you fall and stay asleep. Speak with your doctor before trying over-the-counter sleep medications, as they may interact with other medications you are taking (if applicable). If other methods haven’t helped improve your sleep, your doctor may prescribe a sleep medication.