A good night’s sleep is essential to good health and well-being but aging can bring about changes that make sleeping well a challenge. Not only do older adults tend to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier, but the rhythm of sleep may change as well. According to the health.harveard.edu article, “Aging and sleep: Making changes for brain health,” older adults actually have less REM sleep (or rapid eye movement sleep) which is the period when dreaming occurs and is essential to cognitive functions including memory.
Other physical problems like those described in the healthline.com article, “Sleep Problems in the Elderly,” sleep apnea, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, incontinence, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease can also impact the quality and quantity of sleep.
But there are steps older adults can take to safely improve sleep without taking over-the-counter medications and reap all the benefits a good night’s sleep provides.
Stick to a routine – One of the easiest ways to improve sleep is to establish a daily routine to slow down before bedtime, take the same steps each night to prepare for bed at the same time, and follow it as closely as possible. When trying to set a routine, pay attention to when you begin to feel sleepy and take advantage of it by enjoying a warm bath, meditating, journaling, listening to quiet music, or reading. Avoid anything stressful or stimulating because they can cause the release of the hormone cortisol (the stress hormone) which can have a negative effect on the ability to fall asleep.
Eat well and exercise – A healthy diet and regular exercise are helpful ways to improve sleep. According to the sleepfoundation.org article, “Diet and Exercise and Sleep,” diets high in fat and calories can make getting to sleep harder and caffeine too close to bedtime is notorious for wreaking havoc on sleep as well, as do diets that do not provide enough, vitamins A, C, D, and E, as well as calcium and magnesium.
Exercise has many benefits for older adults but it may come as a surprise that it can also improve sleep. Keep in mind however, that exercising should not be done too close to bedtime, but rather in the afternoon or early evening. Exercise is not only great for the body but can also help diminish feelings of stress and anxiety, two sleep inhibitors, and may reduce fatigue during the day.
Limit screen time and blue light – Our lives are full of screens on smartphones, tablets and iPads, and e-readers, all of which can cause sleep problems thanks to the emission of blue light from light-emitting diodes (aka LEDs). While older adults need some blue light for good health, studies suggest that too much blue light may interfere with sleep cycles, possibly by inhibiting the secretion of the sleep hormone melatonin. Find out more about how blue light affects sleep in the scientificamerican.com article, “Q&A: Why Is Blue Light before Bedtime Bad for Sleep?”
Temperature matters too! – Older adults often feel colder than younger people so while the optimum sleep temperature for the general adult population is 65 to 72 degrees, older adults often sleep better with warmer temperatures between 66 and 70 degrees, the same range that is best for infants and toddlers. That said, some older adults are naturally warmer, have conditions or take medications that make them feel warmer so it is best to adjust the thermostat each night until the perfect temperature is found. Learn more about the importance of temperature and sleep in the grayingwithgrace.com article, “What Is The Best Sleep Temperature For Seniors On Average?”
Make the bedroom a sleep refuge – Keeping the bedroom for sleep only is another way to improve the quality and quantity of sleep. Start with keeping lighting low by using 40-watt bulbs and or dimmers, removing televisions, and installing light-blocking window treatments like shades or drapes, especially in urban areas where man-made light at night is often greater.
Also consider how comfortable the bed and bed clothes are. If a mattress is older than five years it may be time to get a new one. New sheets and blankets can also help improve sleep, according to the goodhousekeeping.com article “The Best Bedding of 2022,” which rated the best bedding of 2022 based on strength, pilling and wrinkling resistance, and appearance as well as softness, comfort, temperature regulation and more.
At Sonrisa Senior Living comfort, safety and luxury can help make a great night’s sleep a reality. Download our free Guide to Aging Well to learn more about the habits of the “super agers” around the world. Contact us today to find out more about luxury senior living at Sonrisa and schedule a tour!