Lack of sleep can have serious negative consequences for both your physical and mental health and this is especially true for seniors. Studies on sleep and people over the age of 65 show that poor quality sleep can:
- Deteriorate memory and speed up dementia.
- Increase the risk of heart disease and cardiovascular illnesses.
- Adversely impact appetite, often increasing the risk of obesity.
- Weaken the immune system, making seniors more vulnerable to the flu.
Older Americans often have trouble falling asleep, spend less time in REM sleep, and wake up more frequently during the night. If you are over the age of 65 and are experiencing one of these or other sleepless situations — or if you have drowsy days and don’t know why — this article has a few simple, smooth tips for getting better sleep.
Start a Bedtime Ritual
You may need to let your body — and brain — know that it is time to wind down. Nothing triggers yawns quite like creating a bedtime routine. You’ll want this to be something that relaxes your body and lets your brain settle down. Unfortunately, television, tablets, and smartphones do the opposite, so be sure to swap them out for a magazine, music, or a good book (but not one so good that you can’t put it down). Start your ritual an hour or two beforehand. Experiment with different techniques, such as taking a warm bath, using lavender body lotion, meditating for 20 minutes, or practicing relaxing yoga, until you find a combination that works.
Create a Sleepy Space
Is your bedroom filled with distractions, from TVs to bright lights? It could be that your environment is keeping you awake. You can tone things down a bit with some quick, easy, and inexpensive changes. Replace bright, harsh bulbs with soft lighting, and use a white noise or sound machine to block out noisy neighbors.
Temperature plays an important role here, too. Keep the room comfortable and cool with a ceiling or floor fan, and if that doesn’t do it, try wearing pajamas made from breathable fabrics like cotton, chambray, or rayon. And don’t forget the bedding! Sheets and blankets made of breathable fabrics can help you regulate temperature, as well.
Get Diet and Exercise on Track
There are definitely types of food you should avoid right before bed— like sugar and caffeine — but how you eat all day can also affect how you sleep at night. Prepare wholesome meals balanced with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. If you’re drowsy, drink green tea instead of coffee or sodas to get a powerful boost of antioxidants. And diet is only one part of the equation — shoot for at least 30 minutes moderate exercise a day. This will help you sleep longer and more deeply because your body needs to recover. Plus, exercise is also a positive coping strategy for the stress and anxiety that often keeps seniors awake at night.
If you find yourself counting sheep instead of getting sleep, you’re not alone. More than 60 million Americans suffer from insomnia. For some, the mind refuses to slow down, and we tend to ruminate on things we didn’t accomplish or conflicts we’ve endured. For others, the body is the culprit, with sleep disorders or chronic pain keeping us up. However, for seniors, it’s often a combination of both. It’s easy to see how making the effort to improve your sleep can also improve your overall well-being.
Contributed by Lydia Chan. Lydia is the co-creator of Alzheimerscaregiver.net, a website that aims to provide tips and resources to help caregivers. Her mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Lydia found herself struggling to balance the responsibilities of caregiving and her own life. She is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experiences with caregivers and seniors. In her spare time, Lydia finds joy in writing articles about a range of caregiving topics.