The knowledge that good sleep is important is on par with the idea that broccoli is good for you. It’s undisputed common knowledge. But that doesn’t change the fact that an estimated 30 to 48 percent of seniors experience some symptoms of insomnia.
The problem is that while most people know sleep is important, information about how to actually get good sleep is not common knowledge. At Bethesda Gardens assisted living community in Frisco, we want residents and all seniors to be as healthy as possible, so we created this small guide with five tips for getting better sleep.
Good sleep is less about early to bed, early to rise and more about going to bed and waking up at consistent times. Your body has an internal “clock” that keeps track of time-sensitive things like when you should be hungry or sleepy. You’ll probably find that if you decide to eat later than usual, you get hungry at exactly the time you normally eat. The same thing happens with sleep; when you go to bed at the same time every night, your body knows when to get sleepy. That helps you fall asleep faster and have better sleep quality.
Unfortunately, throughout life, events and situations slowly disconcert sleep cycles and train people to go to bed at random hours. Babies, odd-hour jobs and emergencies all make a sleep schedule impossible. As an older adult, you may have to work to find your way back to a consistent sleep pattern.
One of the big ways you can get in the way of a solid sleep schedule is missing the tiredness window. When your brain thinks it’s time for sleep, it will send a tiredness signal. You probably know the feeling. The problem comes if you ignore this signal and don’t go to bed. Your body takes this as a sign that you need to stay up and gives you a second wave of energy that can keep you up all night.
Try going to bed when you're tired at night and waking up at the same time every morning. It may be difficult at first, but the more you practice this consistency, the better you'll get at it.
The advent of the electric light bulb may have been the catalyst of modern society, but it was a huge loss for sleep quality. Your internal clock is only so good at doing its job, so it uses exterior information like light to help stay in time. Artificial light throws this off.
If you want to get good quality sleep and fall asleep quickly, you need to return to pre-industrialized society and turn your room into a cave. A good sleeping cave blocks out any sensory stimulants like light and sound. Here are some tips for turning your room into a sleeping cave:
What you do throughout the day can affect your sleep just as much as what you do at night. Proper exercise and diet help improve quality of sleep and may keep you from tossing and turning. The reason exercise helps is pretty intuitive; the more you do, the more tired you are. It also releases neurotransmitters that make you feel more relaxed, such as endorphins. You probably don’t want to exercise too close to bedtime, though, or you could feel too energized to fall asleep.
Diet helps in a variety of ways. The first is reducing indigestion and heartburn. It’s pretty hard to fall asleep when your chest feels like it’s on fire. A good diet also provides nutrients that help with sleep, such as melatonin. Taking dietary supplements may help as a short-term insomnia fix, but you should consult your doctor before taking them.
Though caffeine in low doses is perfectly healthy, seniors struggling with sleep should probably try to cut it out completely or at least after lunch. And that means more than just coffee; you want to cut out anything that has caffeine. Some products to avoid are:
Falling asleep is mostly about communicating to your body that it’s sleep time. A nighttime routine is one of the best ways to do this because your body begins to associate the activity with sleep.
Nighttime routines can be anything that fills two requirements: it’s calm and relaxing and it doesn’t involve a digital screen. Reading, coloring and listening to music are good night activities. They don’t require tons of mental effort and are soothing. The reason your nighttime routine can’t involve screens is that screens produce blue light that keeps your brain fully awake. E-ink screens — such as those on certain Kindle or Nook devices — are fine for night use because they don’t produce that kind of light.