There is a widespread misunderstanding that lack of sleep is a natural part of aging. This misunderstanding results in significantly negative effects. Chronic insomnia can cause potentially fatal diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
The US National Poll on Healthy Aging, conducted by the University of Michigan, asked more than 1,000 older adults about their sleep habits and sleep medication use. The poll found that 14 percent regularly took sleep medications and 23 percent occasionally took medications. Nearly half of the group had trouble falling asleep at least one night a week and 15 percent reported sleep problems three or more nights per week.
Though sleep medications could provide short-term help, they aren’t long-term solutions. Some sleep scientists, such as Professor Matthew Walker, warn that the undervaluing of the importance of sleep by society was partly responsible for this sleep-loss epidemic. He goes on to warn of other factors, including computers, smartphones, alcohol, and caffeine.
Sleep is a critical factor for overall health as we age. So what can you do to get quality sleep, every night of the week?
Tips for better sleep as you age
Naturally boost melatonin levels. Melatonin is the hormone that makes you sleepy. Artificial lights, such as those from your smartphone, TV, or computer, can hinder your body’s production of melatonin. Use low-wattage light bulbs in safe locations throughout your home and don’t watch TV or use your phone or computer at least an hour before bed.
If you like reading from a tablet at night, consider using an eReader, which is less harmful to your melatonin levels.
You can also help boost melatonin levels by making the bedroom a sleep-only zone. By training yourself to think of the bed as a place for sleep only, you will trick your brain into thinking the same thing. Thus, every time you lay down, your body will naturally have an increased urge to fall asleep.
Stick to the same bedtime. Your body has an internal clock that will get used to your sleep routine. Go to sleep and get up at the same time everyday, even on weekends. Avoid naps throughout the day so that you will stay sleepy during bedtime and exercise at regular times each day. Exercising within 3 hours of your bedtime can prevent quality rest.
Watch your fluids. Trips to the bathroom can break your sleep, which prevents a good night’s rest. Drink less fluids at night, especially alcohol. Drinking even a small amount of alcohol close to bedtime can make it harder to stay asleep. It will often cause you to wake up in the middle of the night after the effects have worn off.
Caffeine, often from coffee, tea, soda, and chocolate, should be avoided late in the day as well.
Get some sun. Circadian rhythm is an internal clock that coordinates when our body should sleep. This rhythm is controlled by the circadian pacemaker, a part in our brain that is influenced by light exposure.
When light enters the eye, signals are sent throughout the body to control organs and other systems. Making an effort to go outside and get some sunlight each day will let your body know when it should be awake and when it shouldn’t.
What causes sleep problems when you’re older?
There are many reasons as to why you aren’t able to sleep well as you age. Figuring out what is keeping you up could help you tackle the issue.
Pain is one of the most common causes of insomnia for older individuals. Various conditions, such as arthritis, can cause significant pain when you are trying to sleep. A doctor may be able to help you find the treatment you need to help your condition.
Some Medications can keep you awake at night as a side effect. Ensure that your doctor knows of every medication that you take and how much. They may be able to switch out certain medications with those that don’t negatively affect your sleep.
Another major cause of sleep is stress. As you get older, you are more likely to go through major transitions in your life. Major illnesses, financial problems, or the death of loved ones can cause stress, which could make it hard to sleep. Talk with your loved ones or meet with a counselor to manage your stress.