In our last few posts, we’ve been talking about the value of good sleep and the health implications that come when we don’t get enough. This is an issue of special importance for seniors because 50% of older American struggle with some kind of sleep problem. When the issue is sleep apnea, doctors can prescribe very effective treatments that often provide immediate relief. But in many cases, environmental factors or our own poor habits negatively impact our sleep health. If you’re feeling chronically tired, here are a few options you can try to improve your sleep quality.
Change Your Environment
Circadian Rhythms are our bodies’ natural way of regulating sleep and wakefulness. When these rhythms become disrupted, we often suffer from insomnia or other sleep disturbances. As it turns out, our exposure to natural light has a big impact on the proper function of Circadian Rhythms. If you’re suffering from sleep disturbances, get outside on a regular basis during daylight hours. Sometimes a daily daylight walk is all it takes to reset your internal clock. If that doesn’t work, some sleep specialist have taken to prescribing Light Therapy, which involves sitting for a set amount of time in front of a box that mimics outdoor light. Consult your doctor if you’re interested in learning more.
Change Your Habits
As we continue to learn, exercise is indeed the best medicine. Research shows that “people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week.” So if you’re a couch potato who’s also having trouble sleeping, try elevating your heartbeat on a regular basis. Chronic late-night snackers may also benefit from changing their ways. Acid reflux can be a sleep killer, so doctors recommend eating your last meal at least three hours before bedtime.
Change Your Sleep Hygiene
Practicing good sleep hygiene creates an ideal environment and state-of-mind for sleep. Some recommendations include:
- Maintain a regular sleep routine by going to sleep and getting up at the same time every day.
- Don’t watch TV or read in bed. These habits associate the bed with wakefulness.
- Don’t stay awake in bed for more than 10 or 20 minutes. If you can’t fall asleep, get up and read a book or do a crossword puzzle. Then when you start to feel sleepy, go back to bed. Repeat if necessary.
- Create an ideal sleep environment that is comfortable, quiet, dark, and cool.
Click here for more sleep hygiene tips.
Sleep Problems are Common, but Solvable
The biggest lesson from all this is that sleep problems are very common and very fixable. But most of all, they shouldn’t be ignored! Too often our culture encourages us to “burn the midnight oil” or sacrifice sleep for other seemingly more important pursuits. Older Americans may be inclined to suffer through sleep problems because they’re seen as a natural function of aging. But nothing could be further from the truth. Quality sleep forms the foundation for optimal physical and mental health, no matter your age. So if you’re having trouble sleeping, we encourage you to try changing your habits, or make a point to chat about it with your doctor. When you do, your mind and body with thank you.