Approximately 60 million Americans have problems sleeping at night, the majority of which are over the age of 65. Surveys suggest this is because we’re working longer days (with longer commutes), which cuts into time to do personal tasks, so it’s not uncommon to be paying the bills or cleaning the house into the wee hours. People are also just staying up later because they’re addicted to electronic devices.
For seniors, lack of sleep is often tied to depression that’s associated with the loss of a loved one or illness. No matter which category you fall into, here are some ways to help make it easier to fall asleep so you can wake up feeling like your best self.
Adopt Consistent Sleep Schedule
One of the first things you need to do is adopt a regular sleep schedule so that you’re going to bed and waking up at the same time each day — even on the weekends. This will help you regulate your internal biological clock so that hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released before you wake up so that you feel more refreshed. Everyone has a different biological clock, so you may have to experiment with different sleep cycles (biphasic, polyphasic, monophasic) in order to determine which one works best for you.
Because mental health and sleep are closely related, it’s important that you assess the quality of sleep you’re getting. If you’re getting ample sleep, but still wake up groggy or in pain, it could be due to your sleep conditions: are you tossing and turning all night? Is your bedroom too hot or too cold? Are you sleeping on an old, sagging and unsupportive mattress? If you think your mattress may be the culprit, consider a carefully selected upgrade. First, assess your sleeping habits (side or stomach sleeper, for example) and whether or not you have issues such as back pain or night sweats. Then, do your research (there are a ton of options out there!) by reviewing this guide to help you choose a model to support your specific needs.
Research has proven that exercise contributes to improved sleep (especially in seniors 55 and older), but it has to be done on a consistent basis in order to be effective. It’s also important that any physical activity is not done within three hours of bedtime or it can have an adverse effect. As an added bonus, exercise has copious mental health benefits to include reduced stress and anxiety, improved mood, increased self-confidence, prevention in cognitive decline, boosted brainpower, sharpened memory, control over addiction, increased relaxation and boosted creativity.
Be Mindful Of Your Diet
Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and alcohol at least two to three hours before bedtime in order to fall asleep and stay asleep without interruption. Consider incorporating sleep-inducing foods and beverages into your dinners such as cottage cheese, turkey, fatty fish, white rice, walnuts, tart cherry juice, kiwi, passionflower and chamomile teas and almonds. While there’s some controversy about whether or not it’s healthy to eat before bedtime (like a snack, for example), many people find it helpful to have something small such as a piece of fruit with a tablespoon of peanut butter, a handful of nuts, a half cup of cereal with milk or a few crackers and cheese.
If all else fails, it may be time to book an appointment with your doctor as your problem may be more chronic. However, be cautious with taking any sleeping pills as they are highly addicting and should definitely be avoided if you have a history of addiction. Not to mention, studies revealed that those who take prescription pills are at a greater risk for certain times of cancers and are four times more likely to die than people who don’t take them. Talk to your doctor about alternative methods such as herbs, melatonin, acupuncture and meditation.
Author: Shiela Olson