How to improve the quality of your sleep as you age

Creating nightly routines and avoiding caffeinated beverages can help you get the 7-9 hours of sleep your body needs.

Michigan State University Extension recognizes that a good night’s sleep is important at every age. Sleep is a vital aspect of good health and quality of life. Older adults need about 7-9 hours of sleep each night to feel rested; unfortunately, most do not get that amount. Many older adults have difficulty falling asleep at night and also often sleep less deeply, waking up more regularly during the night.

As people get older, sleep schedules change, with many older adults going to bed at an earlier hour and rising earlier in the morning. There are many reasons why these changes occur. Older adults might be making and secreting less melatonin, which is the hormone that helps you to sleep. They may also be more sensitive to changes in their environment, such as noises. Older adults might also be experiencing medical or psychiatric problems which can cause sleep problems. Not getting enough sleep can lead to many problems, such as depressed mood, attention and memory problems, excessive daytime sleepiness, more nighttime falls. Poor sleep is not a normal part of aging. According to the National Institute on Health: Senior Health, our sleeping patterns change as we get older, but waking up tired every day is not normal aging.

What you do during the day affects how you sleep at night. The NIH Senior Health provides a list of suggestion to help ensure you get a good night’s sleep, which you can access online. A 20-minute ‘cat nap’ in the early afternoon is healthful habit. However, try not to nap too long or too close to bedtime as this may make it harder to fall asleep at your bedtime. Incorporating daily exercise, such as a brisk 30-minute walk will also help improve the quality of you sleep. Having some daily exposure to natural light also helps regulate sleep. Do not use alcohol to help you fall asleep. Alcohol may make you feel sleepy; however, it tends to interrupt your good sleep patterns. You may find it will cause you to wake up more frequently during the night. If you love coffee with dinner or after dinner, try switching to decaffeinated coffee for evenings, so the caffeine won’t keep you awake.

Your bedtime routine is also important to a good night’s sleep. Follow a schedule by going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, even on the weekends. Create a safe and comfortable place to sleep. Make sure there are locks on all doors and windows. Have working smoke alarms on each floor. Have a lamp and a phone by your bed. For optimal sleep, your bedroom should be dark, well ventilated, cool and quiet. Develop a bedtime routine by doing the same thing every night before you go to bed, like brushing your teeth and washing your face with warm water. This routine helps to signal your body and brain that it is time to wind down. It helps to use your bedroom only for sleeping. Avoid using your cellphone, television, laptop or tablets after turning out the light.

What if you do all that and you still can’t seem to fall sleep? The most important thing to do is not to worry; worrying can definitely keep you awake. Give yourself at least 15-20 minutes to fall asleep. Try some mindful breathing for 5 minutes, concentrating only on feeling your natural breath in and out, and in and out. In the next 5 minutes, concentrate on thinking peaceful, loving thoughts. Make a mental list of three to five things that went well for you that day. If you are not sleepy after 20 minutes, then get up and try reading or listening to some calming music and try again.

If you find you are having sleeping problems and are continuously tired throughout the day, you should consult your physician. There are many ways to help you get a good night’s sleep and your doctor will be the best one to find a solution or solutions that work for you.

Michigan State University Extension offers classes and programs in mindfulness techniques that can help you learn more about ways to improve your health and wellbeing. 

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