As we get older it can become more difficult to enjoy a full night’s sleep. There are all sorts of reasons for this, our health, our mood, our weight, the medication we are on, but also the way our bodies sleep. There are some simple things you can do to improve the quality of your sleep.
The Importance of Sleep
There is a popular myth that as we get older we need less sleep but it isn’t true. Research has shown that your sleep needs stay constant throughout adulthood.
If anything sleep is more important as you age. Healthy sleep has been linked to better cognitive function, lower rates of inflammation and heart disease, and improved resistance against viruses like influenza and the common cold.
On the other hand, people who sleep poorly have a higher risk of dementia, depression, memory loss, confusion, and anxiety. It’s simple: people who sleep better tend to be healthier and live longer.
The Way We Sleep Changes as We Get Older
What does change as we get older is the way we sleep. Sleep occurs in a sequence of stages, including dreamless periods of light and deep sleep, plus occasional periods of active dreaming, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. This cycle is repeated several times during the night. However, older people spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep. When you are in the lighter stages, it’s easier to be aroused, which then can make it difficult to fall back to sleep.
Simple Steps To A Better Night’s Sleep
Here are ten steps you can take to enjoy better sleep curtesy of Faustin Etindele, Sleep Medicine & Social Epidemiology fellow at the Université du Québec à Montréal.
1. Establish a regular schedule. Regular bedtime and wake-up times will help you maintain a healthy sleep routine.
2. Keep in contact with natural light and air. Open your windows and expose yourself to sunlight as much as possible. This can be good for improving your mood and regulating your body clock. In addition, fresh air has been shown to improve sleep quality.
3. Maintain daily physical activity. Staying active helps you build up enough body fatigue to fall asleep more easily and get a deeper sleep.
4. Limit naps. Unless you’ve had very little sleep the previous night, it is important to avoid sleeping during the day especially in the later part of the day, as this reduces sleep pressure and increases the risk of insomnia.
5. Stay positive and stay connected. We all have to deal with stress and anxiety from time to time. Talking and spending time with our family and friends is an excellent stress reliever and helps to keep problems in perspective. You can find more advice about ways of coping with stress, anxiety and depression here.
6. Be disciplined in your diet. Avoid drinking coffee in the afternoon as it can cause nervousness and delay sleep in the evening. Eating large, overly rich meals before going to bed can also delay sleep. Some people have no problem sleeping, even if they drink a lot of coffee and eat a lot. It is nevertheless recommended to control the quantities and times of consumption during the day because anything in excess may harm sleep.
7. Avoid backlit devices before bedtime. New technologies are an integral part of our lives and we’re all a little addicted to our smartphones, tablets and laptops. It is important however to set them aside at least 30 minutes before your scheduled sleep time. If you’re worried you won’t be able to do that, you can set the device to “night mode” to reduce its brightness. By reducing the brain’s lag with the natural cycle of day and night, this will prevent disturbances in the biological clock and will be beneficial for the quality of sleep in the long term.
8. Avoid staying in bed if you don’t sleep. The brain is like a computer, which associates certain events with certain functions. The brain will associate bed and darkness with sleep and trigger the whole process of falling asleep. You can incorporate other relaxing activities into your bedtime routine such reading a book, listening to soft music, doing deep breathing exercises or yoga. Do not stay in bed for more than half an hour after going to bed if you are not sleeping. When sleep is delayed, it is best to get out of bed, do a quiet activity, and return to bed only when signs of fatigue — heavy eyelids, yawning, etc. — appear.
9. Accept that not all our nights of sleep are perfect or restful. We are all subject to stress and each of us has our own stress management techniques. We must avoid worrying if we haven’t slept well for a few days. Before you get upset about poor sleep, I suggest you review the eight recommendations above. Often, people have trouble sleeping because of a trivial problem, an argument with a loved one, or some other worry, stress or anxiety. Identifying your stress and learning how to manage it is a good start.
10. Avoid sleeping pills. Generally, the easy solution is the one that carries the most risk. Prolonged use of sleep aids, such as benzodiazepines or anxiolytics, without consulting health-care professionals could worsen a situation that was not initially serious. It is better to adopt a some good habits than to resort to medication.
Remember that in order to sleep well you have to stay active, eat healthily, have fun, don’t stress and take care of your loved ones. Good advice for day or night!