Failing to get a good night’s sleep can impact how we function during the day. It can impact our cognitive abilities and memory.
The sleep you need also changes over time. As a senior, this might mean that you go to bed much earlier than you did at a younger age but you also get up earlier too.
Aging and sleep issues often go hand in hand. You may not need as much sleep as you once did, but seniors still need 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night to feel rested.
If you’re a senior struggling to get a good night’s sleep, read on for a list of tips to help you get the sleep you need.
1. Consider Underlying Health Issues First
While it’s true that many seniors struggle with sleep issues, there are times when these issues are a secondary side effect of other health-related conditions.
Some health problems that commonly cause sleep problems include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Lung or heart conditions
- Urinary issues from an enlarged prostate or overactive bladder
- Depression or anxiety
- Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s
Also, take a close look at medications that might be creating side effects that are impacting sleep habits.
2. Get Rid of Daytime Naps
Sure, we all love a good snooze in our chair late in the afternoon. Yet, these little cat naps can actually be preventing you from sleeping at night.
Your body only needs so much sleep. When you take those naps during the day, you are making it harder for yourself to fall asleep later.
If you feel yourself getting sleepy during the day, ask yourself if you have had enough water today.
Instead of staying put when you feel sleepy, try getting up and moving around a bit. If you know you’re normally sleepy in the afternoons, plan to take a short walk then.
If you must nap, try hard to limit your nap time to 20 minutes. This prevents you from getting into a deep sleep that will take away from your slumber time later.
3. Pay Attention to Your Diet
The diet of a senior can also impact their sleep.
Caffeine, especially late in the day, can affect your ability to sleep later. Alcohol is another sleep busting culprit. While some believe alcohol might help them go to sleep, it actually disrupts sleep rhythms.
Watch sugar intake and remember that sugar is hidden in many foods like white bread and pasta. The higher levels of sugar in your body can interrupt your sleep later in the night.
Likewise, a meal of spicy foods can cause indigestion that keeps you awake late at night.
Do you wake up many times during the night needing to go to the bathroom? Try limiting your liquid intake for an hour or two before bed.
Before bed try a light snack like a banana or yogurt and consider taking vitamins that help you sleep.
4. Get Daytime Exercise
When you exercise, your body will release chemicals. These chemicals help you get a restful night’s sleep later. You might be thinking, “I don’t get around well, how can I exercise?”
There are many options for movement and exercise, even for those who have some mobility issues.
Swimming and water aerobics are great aerobic exercises that don’t have the impact on your joints than some other exercises might. Take up golf or tennis to get moving. Even doing some daily gardening helps to get you moving.
Can’t go for a three-mile walk anymore? That’s okay, you can still do several small walks each day.
For those that want to stretch their muscles but have more limits, many seniors are enjoying chair yoga.
5. Work on a Sleep Routine
When you have an infant, you teach them about how to go to sleep. With children, you also establish bedtime routines that help them prepare to go to sleep.
As a senior, you need sleep routines too. When you have fewer commitments, it’s easy to get off on your schedule.
To get the best sleep and to make sure your body knows when to sleep and when to wake up, you need to stick to a sleep routine. This means you go to bed at the same time each night.
If you feel sleepy earlier than you used to, then adjust your bedtime. Going to bed at the same time each night helps your body know it’s time to sleep.
Also, get up at the same time each morning.
6. Create Bedtime Rituals
When we were little our parents would read us a story before bed. We got a kiss goodnight and maybe said our bedtime prayers.
There’s a reason parents universally create these bedtime rituals with kids. It works to tell our brain and body it’s time to sleep. The same is true as a senior.
Maybe you take a hot bath before bed. You could play some relaxing music. Practice some deep breathing exercises to calm your body.
Put on comfortable pajamas that make you relax. An hour before bed, try even having a decaf cup of tea or warm milk.
7. Bedrooms for Sleep and Sex Only
You (and your brain) need to view your bedroom as the place where you sleep and have intimate interactions.
So, often in today’s world, we move the TV into the bedroom. Pretty soon, you’re laying in bed watching TV late into the night, instead of sleeping.
Avoid setting up a desk in your bedroom for hobbies or work-related activities.
Think about your bed coverings. Do you wake up too hot in the night? You want your room to be cooler, so maybe think about a fan. It creates white noise and helps to keep you cool while you sleep.
Layer your bedding so it’s easy to push back some layers if you want to be cooler while you sleep.
8. Get Rid of Late Night Stimuli
Your brain needs time to shut down and get ready for sleep. It will help this to happen when you avoid overstimulation a few hours before bed.
This means avoiding electronics if at all possible. Watching the blood pumping movie might be interesting but your body is then filled with adrenaline and not ready for sleep.
Likewise, try to avoid using your electronic devices like a phone, iPad, or e-reader before bed. They all have blue light that can impact your brain and prevent it from settling down for sleep.
9. Address the Stress in Your Life
No matter your age, stress happens. When a person is feeling stressed and anxious, their brain works overtime, and falling asleep can feel impossible.
When we worry or feel anxiety, our minds work overtime. So, you need to find a way to address the stressors you feel.
Find a friend to talk through your worries with. Keep a journal. Sometimes just writing them down on paper helps work them out in your mind.
Practice deep breathing and soft stretching to release some of the anxiety from your body.
When you go to bed feeling stressed, choose a happy memory to relive inside your head and focus on the memory instead of the worries.
10. Consider Snoring Issues
Whether you are the snorer or you sleep next to someone who snores, you know it can greatly impact restful sleep.
If you are the snorer, talk to your doctor. The doctor can order a sleep study to evaluate your level of sleep apnea. C-pap machines help with breathing while snoring and can change the quality of your sleep.
Sometimes just finding the right pillow can change the angle of your head and help with snoring.
11. Avoid Using Sleep Aids
If you’re not sleeping well and are feeling desperate for a good night’s sleep, it’s understandable to want to take a sleep aid.
A sleep aid, whether over the counter or prescription, can provide some temporary relief, it doesn’t address the issues related to insomnia.
The pill might help you sleep one night, yet it is masking the reasons for your insomnia.
Sure, you might just want a decent night’s sleep. In the long run, you’re better off trying to figure out why you are having insomnia and address those issues instead of covering them up with a sleep aid.
Understanding the Impacts of Aging and Sleep
As we age our sleep patterns change and our sleep needs change. But just because you are aging doesn’t mean you don’t need a good night’s sleep.
If you’re struggling with aging and sleep-related issues, try one or more of these tips to get you the good night’s sleep you deserve.