Getting a good night’s sleep and waking up rested are important and help maintain concentration, memory and focus at any age, especially as we age. Sleep not only refreshes us mentally; it also refreshes our immune system. Getting a solid seven to nine hours of sleep every night is important for adults but the way you feel upon waking—and feeling rested throughout the day—are good indicators of whether or not you’re getting the restful sleep you need for optimal quality of life.
Sleep patterns in seniors
Due to hormonal changes, older adults may notice changes in their sleep patterns such as waking up earlier in the morning or getting sleepy earlier in the evening. Other seniors may find themselves becoming “light sleepers.” While these changes are normal with aging and are relatively easy to adapt to, insomnia, disturbed sleep or waking up tired all the time are not normal and can affect health and well-being. Insufficient sleep can lead to depression or irritability, memory and attention issues, and may increase risk of certain health problems.
Sleep disruptions are not a normal part of aging, so it’s important for seniors to identify the underlying causes. These may be:
- Emotional or psychological – Feeling stressed or anxious, or dealing with a significant life change or traumatic experience. Some ways to combat stress are to keep a journal, listen to calming music, do puzzles, and stay in touch with friends or relatives.
- Medical – Chronic or emergent pain, and certain chronic conditions may make it difficult to fall asleep or cause you to wake up several times during the night. These may be sleep apnea, asthma, diabetes, heartburn, or arthritis to name a few. Medications may also be a factor.
- Sedentary lifestyle – Being too sedentary and not getting enough exercise during the day inhibit restful sleep. The same goes for spending too much time indoors with a lack of sunlight.
- If you can, take a walk outside, do chair Zumba or arm & leg exercises
- Open the shades during the day to let in the sunlight, or use a light therapy box.
- Avoid daytime naps so that you are more tired in the evening.
- Diet – Some sleep-friendly dietary measures are:
- Limit intake of coffee/tea or chocolate late in the day (these all contain caffeine that will stimulate your system rather than invite sleep).
- Avoid consuming alcohol before bedtime, as this disrupts sleep
- Reduce your consumption of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates – fresh vegetables and fruits, and whole grains are better for everyone
- Avoid a big meal or spicy food just before you go to bed (indigestion!)
- Limit your liquid intake about an hour or so before bedtime
- Sleep environment/habits – Maintain consistent sleep hours, and keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature.
- If you are sensitive to noise, earplugs or a white noise machine are helpful, and a sleep mask can keep out light that may cause sleep problems.
- Turn off the TV before bedtime
- Don’t use backlit devices such as tablets or e-readers before bedtime; the artificial light can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes your sleepy. Using a supplemental low-wattage lamp at your bedside will help with this if you are a late-night reader.
- Mindfulness meditation and deep breathing are excellent ways to induce relaxation.
Making small changes from the list above can help improve your sleep experience if you’re having trouble sleeping or are not feeling rested when you wake up. Of course, if problems persist, please consult your medical professional to make sure underlying or chronic conditions are not causing issues.