As winter approaches and the days get shorter, you may envision yourself entering a hibernation period of sorts—sleeping for longer periods and more soundly. However, for many people, the same sleep struggles that plague them during the summer persist throughout the winter. They may get worse because there is less daytime light.
It is normal for your sleep patterns to change as you age. However, if you’re chronically struggling to fall asleep at night or to stay asleep, it could negatively impact your health. Read on to learn actionable ways to get better sleep, including routines to follow if you’re not getting enough sleep.
How Your Sleep Changes With Age
Sleep is a vital activity in every stage of life; however, how your body processes its horizontal hours fluctuates as you age. According to the Sleep Foundation, the aging process comes with changes in the hormones that drive your body’s circadian clock. You may find that you feel tired at different points during the day, shifting your schedule to falling asleep earlier in the day and waking up earlier in the morning. You may experience more nighttime awakenings (experts note that older people wake up three to four times each night, on average) and fewer periods of deep sleep. You may also get less exposure to daytime light as you age, which can affect your sleep hormones and quality of sleep.
How Much Sleep Should You Be Getting?
All of the changes in sleep that come with aging can impact the number of total hours that you sleep each day. However, it’s important to know that the National Sleep Foundation still recommends seven to eight hours of nightly sleep for adults over age 65. It’s important to keep an eye on your sleep habits and try to reach this target because sleep is an important part of your overall health. Researchers have shown that getting less sleep is linked to a higher likelihood of chronic disease, particularly if you are getting five or fewer hours.
When you can’t sleep, it can feel defeating. You may want to make a change in your daily routine but then struggle to have the energy to do so. Luckily, you can take many simple, actionable steps to get better sleep as an aging adult. This includes things you can do during the day to prepare your body to sleep better at night and also things you can do during your bedtime routine. Taken together, all of these healthy habits are known as “sleep hygiene.”
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here are the top sleep hygiene actions you can take to improve your daily routine and nightly slumber:
- Stay consistent with your sleep. This means that you should set a regular bedtime and wake-up time for yourself that does not vary daily, including on the weekends. Avoiding daytime naps can also help you sleep for longer periods at night.
- Exercise during the day. Exercise can help your body properly “tire out” and make it easier for you to fall asleep at night. Exercise is especially helpful if you are outside and exposed to natural sunlight because research has shown that light exposure during the day can decrease nighttime awakenings in older adults.
- Avoid consuming the top insomnia culprits. Drinking caffeine late in the day, drinking alcohol, and eating big meals before bed can all rob you of quality sleep.
- Keep your bedroom quiet and dark. Your sleeping space should be simple, without distracting computers, TVs, or other electronic devices.
The experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) also emphasize the importance of reducing your fluid intake before going to bed, as having to get up frequently during the night to use the restroom can disrupt your quality of sleep. It’s also important to avoid trying to force sleep. AASM experts note that you should only go to bed if you’re actually sleepy, and that you should get out of bed and do a quiet activity (without screens or light exposure) if you haven’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes.
Sleep changes are a natural part of aging, but chronic sleep deprivation is not inevitable. In fact, chronic insomnia can interfere with your mood and your energy level, and it can even increase your risk of falls. If you’re worried you’re not getting enough sleep, you may benefit from keeping a sleep journal that documents your daily routine. Take note of the nights that you sleep better (documenting your activities and when you consumed specific foods and drinks), as well as the nights that sleep is more difficult. Use the above tips to modify your sleep routine and, if you’re still struggling after these tweaks, make sure to check in with your medical doctor.
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