Getting a good night’s sleep is important for good health. According to Mayo Clinic, adults need to get seven to nine hours of sleep per night for optimum health. Although some may claim to feel rested on less sleep, studies show that people who regularly sleep less than seven hours per night do not perform as well on mental tasks as those who do. They also tend to have a higher mortality rate.
Sleeping patterns change as people age, and this can make it more difficult to sleep through the night. Older adults tend to sleep more lightly and for shorter time spans, go to sleep earlier and wake up earlier, and often nap more during the day, which can make it harder to fall asleep at night. They may also be less physically and socially active, both of which contribute to more napping. As people age, they also tend to spend less time in natural deep-sleep stages, making them lighter sleepers.
The National Institute on Aging (NIA) notes that other reasons older adults may not sleep well include illness or pain, medications that cause insomnia, and worries that occupy the mind. More serious issues, such as sleep apnea, involuntary movement disorders and Alzheimer’s Disease, can also affect sleep patterns. The NIA warns that lack of sleep can cause a person to feel irritable, become forgetful, feel depressed and be more prone to falls or accidents.
Following a regular sleep schedule is one way to help get good sleep. Going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, including weekends, will train a body to follow a rhythm. Developing a relaxing bedtime routine, such as listening to soothing music, reading a book, or taking a bath, can also help.
The NIA recommends reserving the bedroom only for sleeping and sex. Watch television, read and do hobbies in another room. It recommends keeping a bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature. Avoid television, computer and phone use just before bedtime and don’t sleep with them on. Keep a lamp near the bed to see and move safely at night.
Eating and exercise habits can also contribute to good sleep. Have a regular daily exercise routine, but try not to exercise within three hours of going to sleep. Get a little bit of natural sunlight every day and do not eat a large meal close to bedtime. Also avoid caffeine, alcohol and beverages later in the day. These can affect the ability to fall and stay asleep.
If naps are needed to make up lost sleep, avoid napping in the late afternoon and evening. Deep breathing exercises, prayer or meditation can help calm the mind at bedtime. Turn clocks to face away from the bed to avoid seeing and worrying about the time. Another trick is to keep a notebook near the bed and write down any worries before going to sleep each night. Let the notebook keep the worries instead of the mind.
People who have trouble sleeping should consult their doctor, who can help identify the causes and suggest a plan to help them get a better night’s sleep.