Sleep is vital for good physical and mental health especially as we grow older, but as we age actually getting the right amount of good quality sleep can notoriously become more difficult. Older adults require about seven to nine hours of sleep a night and research shows that unfortunately many people are not getting as much sleep as they need.
With aging our sleeping patterns tend to change, often making it harder to get to sleep, and giving us less time in deep sleep meaning we wake up more regularly through the night or too early in the morning. In addition, people often fall into poor sleep habits which exacerbate the problem of insomnia, such as irregular sleep hours, alcohol or caffeine before bed, and falling asleep with the TV on.
A good night’s sleep is important for everyone, but even more so for older people, as the benefits that sleep brings strongly relate to issues that are more prevalent as we age. Sleep is known to improve concentration and memory, boosts the immune system to help prevent illness, and aids the reparation of cell damage in the body.
In fact research has shown that insufficient sleep in older adults can contribute towards depression, attention and memory problems, and there is also a correlation between a lack of sleep and serious health conditions like an increased risk of diabetes, weight problems, breast cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
The good news is there are lots of tried and tested tricks to help improve our chances of dropping off and sleeping soundly through the night.
1. Create the perfect sleeping environment
Studies have shown that there are ways to make your bedroom more conducive to sleep. Focus on the key areas of light, temperature, and noise. Think about whether your bed is comfortable enough, if your pillows are the right height and if your bedding is too warm or too cool.
Try to minimise any external light that comes into the room at night with blackout blinds or curtains, and make sure that alarm clocks don’t give out blue light through the night. Aim to eliminate any noise that might disturb you in the night and if traffic noise for example cannot be avoided consider using ear plugs or playing white noise in the room to counteract the external noise.
Make sure your bedroom is a calm comfortable space, clear of distractions and that it is clean and clutter free. The happier you feel in your bedroom the more relaxed and sleepy you will feel at night.
2. Avoid blue light
Scientific research has shown that the blue light given off by phones, tablets and PCs tricks your brain into thinking it is daytime and upsets the body’s circadian rhythm, and in turn reduces the production of melatonin which helps you relax and get deep sleep.
It is best to avoid blue light as much as possible in the evenings, and definitely an hour before bed. There are apps and settings you can use to reduce the amount of blue light that your device emits.
3. Daylight and exercise
Light plays a very important role in setting our circadian rhythms, and in the same way it is important to avoid blue light in the evening, it is equally important we have exposure to enough daylight during the day. Combine this with daily exercise, be that a good walk out of doors, or a quick gym session by getting your body it will benefit your sleep as exercise is scientifically proven to improve all aspects of sleep and reduce insomnia.
4. Get into good sleep habits
It is all too easy to get into a pattern of behavior that does not aid good sleep, but with a bit of thought and planning you can start new habits that will make you sleepy at the right time.
The body clock loves regularity, so aim to always go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day. Don’t go to sleep with the TV on, rather try reading for 30 minutes before sleep.
Do activities that help you relax before bed, maybe a warm bath, listening to classical music or even cuddling up with a hot drink might work to get you calm and in the mood for sleep.
5. Think about food and drink
It is well known that caffeine is a stimulant and it actually stays in the blood for 6-8 hours, so if you are having trouble sleeping it’s best to avoid it altogether later in the day. Tea, coffee and caffeinated soft drinks are the obvious ones, but don’t forget chocolate also contains caffeine.
Alcohol can make you feel sleepy, but in reality it can interrupt your sleep patterns and disrupt hormone production, so it’s best avoided. In addition, rich food can also make sleeping difficult, so try to keep your evening meal simple and only eat as much as you need, and try to leave a few hours between eating and going to bed.