Getting a good night sleep is a crucial component to your overall health and wellbeing. Getting enough quality sleep each night helps your body recharge and refresh after a long day and boosts your immune system to help keep you from getting sick. It can also help your mind stay sharp by improving your concentration and emotional regulation skills, and benefits your memory too. Unfortunately, as many as 70 million people in the United States alone have some form of sleep disorders or conditions. Another 30 million have intermittent sleep problems each year. That’s a lot of people who aren’t getting enough sleep.
Sleep problems are a common concern, especially for older adults. There are many reasons that someone can have sleep issues, and the reasons vary from conditions such as anxiety, depression, to hormonal changes or medical conditions that cause pain. Other environmental factors can also play a role in sleeping problems, such as consuming caffeine or alcohol later in the day, stress, or exercising in the evening.
As you age, you may begin to notice that you have more issues sleeping such as having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep or changes in your sleeping habits and schedules. Some of these are a normal part of aging, but there are some signs that indicate that there may be an underlying condition such as sleep apnea, restless leg syndrome, or insomnia that you may have. It is important to note that sleep apnea, RLS, and insomnia are not a normal part of aging, and if you are having symptoms of these conditions, you should make an appointment with your doctor or a sleep specialist as soon as you can for further advice and treatment.
Sleep problems are often treated with over the counter or prescription medications specific to the condition you are treating. In some cases, people may take melatonin supplements to help them fall asleep or Benadryl for short-term sleeping issues. Others prefer the preventative route and try to adjust their lifestyle hoping it will help them sleep better. Below are some tips to help you sleep, and although tailored to older adults, people of any age can benefit from them.
1. Understanding how sleep changes as you age. As you age, your body produces less growth hormones and this may cause a decrease in how much deep sleep you can get. Deep sleep is the most refreshing part of your sleep cycle and crucial to proper functioning throughout the day. Aging can cause a decrease in the production of melatonin, which is manufactured by the pineal gland and is the hormone that signals when you need to sleep and when you need to wake up.
When you make less of it in your body, it can change up your sleep schedule and cause sleep disturbances, but it is one of the more “normal” parts of aging. You may experience wanting to go to sleep earlier in the evening and waking up earlier in the morning, or needing to spend more time in bed at night to get the sleep you need, or make up the lack of sleep by taking a nap during the day. Sleep changes such as these are pretty typical of older adults and shouldn’t be too concerning. Revamping your lifestyle habits or taking a melatonin supplement may ease these types of symptoms and help you get better sleep.
What is not a normal part of aging?
• Having trouble falling asleep even if you know you are tired.
• Having trouble getting back to sleep when you are awakened.
• Not feeling refreshed after a night’s sleep.
• Feeling grumpy, irritable, or sleepy during the day.
• Having difficulties staying awake while sitting still, such as while watching tv, driving, or even at meal times.
• Having difficulty concentrating and focusing on tasks during the day.
• Relying on sleeping pills or alcohol to get you asleep and keep you asleep.
• Struggling with managing your stress levels, your emotions, or anxieties.
If you are having any of the above issues, you need to reach out to your doctor or a sleep specialist to help identify the underlying cause of those complications and seek treatment for possible sleep disorders.
2. Identifying an underlying cause for your inability to sleep. There are many reasons you may not be able to sleep. Stressors such as traumatic events, loss of loved one, heavy loads of stress from caring for a loved one, life changes, chronic anxiety, or depression are all causes for the inability to sleep or to sleep well. Taking stock of what’s going on in your life at this moment can help you gain insight into what may be causing you sleeping problems. Checking in with yourself or giving yourself some time to reflect on what’s occurring in your life may help you figure out why you can’t sleep well.
All of these are completely legitimate and challenging things to go through, and much of the time, the day-to-day stresses can and will affect how you sleep. Other things that may contribute to poor sleep are illness, injury, menopause or post menopause (hormones), medications you may be taking for another health condition, or poor sleep habits.
3. Improve your sleep habits. There are many sleep habits that in many cases, help reduce or eliminate sleep problems altogether, as long as there is no underlying medical cause. Some things you can tweak to improve your night time and pre-bed routine are using low wattage bulbs when you can, turning the TV off and stay off any other device such as a cellphone, tablet or computer at least an hour before bed. Light that emits from these devices can affect your sleep by suppressing the production of melatonin, making it hard for your brain to realize it’s time to go to sleep, thus keeping you awake during the night.
Another great way to improve your sleeping habits is by ensuring that your bedroom is dark, cool, quiet, and your bed is comfortable. As you age, you may become more sensitive to light, noise and heat which can contribute to sleep problems. Enlisting the help of sound machines, calming music, a fan, ear plugs or sleep masks can help to improve your sleep at night. Other things such as maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, developing soothing bedtime rituals and going to bed earlier can also help.
4. Use Diet and Exercise to Help Improve Your Sleep. Daytime habits can affect how well you sleep at night. Things like consuming caffeine too late in the day, drinking alcohol before bed, eating a big or spicy meal before bed or drinking too much water or other drink before bed can affect how well you sleep and how many times you may wake up during the night. Trying to not eat after 9pm and limiting caffeine consumption by 2 or 3pm can help you sleep better without the caffeine disrupting your sleep.
Exercising during the day and tiring your body out may also help you be ready for sleep at night. Some great exercise to do during the day are swimming, dancing, golfing, running or cycling can all contribute to a better night’s sleep, provided that it is not done too late in the day.
5. Manage and reduce your mental stress. Curbing mental stress and anxiety can do wonders for your sleep. Learning appropriate coping skills and engaging in calming activities can help center your mind and keep your stress levels down. Stress is a huge factor in keeping people up at night, when there is so much on their minds. Listening to calming music, journaling, reading, and activities such as Yoga can help contribute to an overall feeling of mental wellness and help you sleep.
We hope these tips helped you figure out a place to start for better sleep. As you can see, there are many things you can do to sleep better at night. If you think you may have a sleep disorder, talk with your doctor and have them help you figure out a treatment plan. If you’re reading this on behalf of a loved one you may be tasked with caring for, we want to let you know that we offer respite services, in addition to many other services to help keep mom and dad healthy and safe as they transition into their older years. To learn what services we offer, check out our page outlining what we offer here.