The myth is that as we get older we ‘need less sleep’. Sadly the fact is that as we get older we find it harder to both get to sleep and stay asleep. Our sleep ‘architecture’ ages with us, and we spend more time in the lighter stages of sleep than in deep sleep. What’s more, as we age, we tend to have broken sleep, sometimes due to nightime urination (nocturia), and wake up earlier in the morning, with a decrease in both quality and quantity of sleep. This can lead to daytime sleepiness and even depression.
Here are ten simple tips to help older adults sleep…
1. Swap coffee from Green Tea
As we get older the liver’s clearance of caffeine naturally reduces. If you suffer from insomnia, it is better to totally eliminate coffee rather than just avoid it in the afternoon as is normally advised. Try Green Tea instead, if you need a morning caffeine boost. It contains less caffeine and contains Theanine, which helps promote sleep.
2. Get a healthy sleep habit, regular sleep times controlling day and night
Healthy sleep hygiene starts with going to sleep and waking up at the same time. Our body is designed to have a regular sleep habit; going to sleep when it gets dark and waking up in the morning sunlight. At night, dim the lights before bedtime and avoid technology for the last hour before bed. Technology stimulates the brain, emits ‘blue –light’ from screens, mimics sunlight, and keeps us awake. Use black out blinds to prevent the early morning light from waking you too early and try using a dawn stimulator such as Lumie Alarm, which is a great natural way to wake up.
3. Exercise outdoors
Exercise has been proven to help sleep quality. Exercising outdoors is even better as it helps with our daily dose of sunlight, which helps promote the sleep – wake cycle. As we get older, we produce less melatonin, the sleep hormone. Getting out in the sunlight helps its production.
4. Relax before bedtime, take a bath before bed, read a book and meditate
When we lived in caves, we would have felt a drop in air temperature as the sun went down. Along with the decrease in light, this was a signal to your brain that it was time for sleep. You can mimic this affect by having a warm bath about 45 minutes before bedtime. This is a great way to relax, as is reading a book, rather than watching TV, which often stimulates us. Learning to meditate is also a great way to switch our minds off at night.
5. Healthy Gut bacteria and probiotics
There is increasing evidence that the health of our gut bacteria is related to our sleep. Taking probiotics and foods such as natural yoghurt, which contain healthy gut bacteria, can help maintain the health of our gut microbiome.
6. Check the side effects of any medication
It is always worth checking the side effects of any long-term medication on your sleep and perhaps ask the GP to swap to those with a lower impact if sleep is an issue.
7. Avoid alcohol
Although alcohol can help get us to sleep it disrupts the deeper stages of REM (dream) sleep when we process our memory, produces a reduced quality of sleep. As we get older, we become more sensitive to alcohol’s disruptive impact on sleep quality.
8. Be wary of napping
Once retired, daytime napping is one way we catch up on lost nightly sleep. However napping could also be preventing you from getting to sleep at night. If insomnia persists, try to avoid napping for a period to see if this helps reset your body clock.
9. Get checked for Sleep Apnoea especially if you wake up regularly at night and snore
Snoring tends to become worse with age. If you experience snoring on a regular basis and it can be heard from another room or if you have been told you stop breathing or make loud/gasping noises during your sleep, you need to be checked by your GP for sleep Apnoea (OSA). OSA is a serious condition, which is associated with high blood pressure and other health problems.
10. Avoid drinking too much before bedtime
If you suffer from Nocturia it’s best to avoid drinking within two hours of bedtime in order to reduce the need to use the toilet in the night. Another tip to try is called the double-voiding technique. This involves emptying the bladder twice by urinating about 15 minutes after the first time. Cutting back salt can also help reduce urination.