As we age, we often find that our sleep patterns change, and this is a normal occurrence. According to the National Sleep Foundation, many people find that they get sleepy earlier in the evening and subsequently wake up earlier in the morning. You could experience less time in deep sleep. However it is important to know that disturbed sleep, being tired after a full night’s sleep and other aspects of insomnia are not a normal part of growing older. The importance of sleep in our physical and emotional health, regardless of age should not be over-looked. A healthy adult requires 7.5 to 9 hours of sleep per night. Each person is different, so keep track of how much sleep leaves you feeling good in the morning. That will give you an idea of how much sleep is necessary for you.
Let’s take a look at some common sleep issues and ways to build a good sleep routine.
Common causes of sleep problems
- Poor sleep environment – Your bedroom should be set up to encourage sleep. Use shades to allow the room to be dark and quiet. Do not bring a TV into the bedroom. Falling asleep in front of the TV means that you are soaking in blue light from electronics which can affect the quality of your sleep. Blue light can suppress the production of melatonin which is the hormone that keeps your sleep/wake cycles functioning. You also may be jarred out of sleep as more stimulating content comes on during programming.
- Keeping irregular sleep hours – When you go to bed at the same time each day, your body understands that it needs to fall into a restorative sleep pattern. If your sleep schedule varies each day, you body will have a harder time falling asleep and staying asleep.
- Medical conditions – Certain medical conditions can affect your sleep; arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, nighttime heartburn, and a frequent need to urinate. Speak with your doctor about your sleep concerns and learn about things you can do to gain healthy sleep.
- Medications – Certain medications can also have side-effects that impair your sleep. Speak with your doctor to see if any changes can be made to help you improve sleep.
- Lack of social engagement – Spending time with friends and family keep your activity levels up and that in turn will prepare you body to get a good nights rest. Other ways to increase your social time could be taking adult classes, volunteering or attending group outings.
- Lack of exercise – Actively engaging in regular aerobic exercise, getting your breathing and heart rate increased, will promote good sleep. Having a sedentary lifestyle can result in either never feeling tired, or feeling sleepy all the time.
- Lack of sunlight – Our bodies need sunlight to help regulate melatonin. Try to catch at least two hours of sunlight each day. Keep shades open during the day. There are also light therapy boxes available if getting enough sunshine is hard in your environment.
- Sleep disorders – Sleep apnea, snoring, and restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) are disorders that can physically impact your body’s ability to sleep effectively. Speak with your doctor if you are concerned that you may be experiencing such a disorder.
- Stress – Emotionally, stress can have a big impact on your ability to sleep. Changes such as moving from a family home, death of a loved one, entering into retirement, and loss of proximity to friends and family can have an impact on all of us. Speak with someone you trust about your feeling and concerns.
- Drinking before bed – Both alcohol and caffeine can have adverse effects on your body’s ability to sleep. Stop drinking caffeine about 8 hours before bedtime. Alcohol may help you to fall asleep, it will also cause you to wake up in the middle of the night.
Ways you can improve your sleep
Consdering the importance of sleep in our overall health, consider some of the following tips to help you get a good nights rest.
- Develop a sleep routine – Set a time to go to sleep and wake up and follow this schedule all week.
- Turn off the TV and computer – One hour before your bedtime turn off the TV and computer. This will help by stopping your eyes from receiving blue light which will suppress your production of melatonin. It will also help you to wind down from stimulating content to a more relaxing environment for your brain.
- Read a physical book or an eReader – Using your iPad just before bed will expose you to blue light. Give your eyes a chance to relax and enjoy a good story by reading under a lamp.
- Quiet, dark and cool – Lower the thermostat in your bedroom, close the shades, and lower the light intensity to prepare your body to sleep. If you need more darkness a sleep mask could help you. Each person is different with the sounds that help them sleep. You can make your room completely quiet, wear ear plugs, or if you need some noise to sleep, try a sound machine or fan.
- The bedroom is for sleep and sex – Your brain will associate the bedroom for these two functions and help your body to get to sleep easier.
- Move your bedroom clock – If you find yourself checking the time over and over when you are awake, move the clock so you can’t see it when you are lying in your bed.
- If you can’t sleep, get out of bed – If you find yourself unable to sleep after 15 or 20 minutes, get out of bed and find yourself a relaxing activity (no TV or computer) to get yourself back on track to a good night’s sleep. Return to your bed when you are ready to fall asleep.
- Limit sleep aids or sleeping pills – These are not meant to be used long-term for insomnia. Often they cause side-effects and will make things worse in the long run. Instead, try to find a natural way for you to relax prior to bedtime such as a warm bath, meditation, or listening to soothing music.
If you feel like you need some additional rest during the day, a nap can be very helpful. Here are some suggestions to make your naps helpful and allow you to still sleep at night. Take your nap early in the afternoon, sleeping too late in the day will disrupt your nighttime sleep. Naps should be relatively short – 15 to 30 minutes, so they leave you feeling alert. Longer naps could leave you feeling groggy and make it harder to concentrate.
We strongly believe that people are happier and live well longer when they can stay living in their own home for as long as possible. Understanding the importance of sleep to stay healthy will help increase your odds of making sure that happens. The other way to increase the probability of staying in your home is to make sure your home meets your changing needs.
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