Getting a good night’s sleep is important at any age. Sleep affects our mood, our immune system and our physical abilities, and interrupted sleep or not enough sleep can hurt all three of those. Many people assume that as you get older you need less sleep, but in fact the amount of sleep a person needs as an adult doesn’t change with age. The problem is that as we age it becomes harder to fall asleep, and we experience an increase in sleep fragmentation, waking up more often to use the bathroom or side effects of medications.
It is also true that circadian rhythms change as we age. Just like teenagers tend to want to stay up late at night and sleep late in the morning, for elderly people the rhythm changes to falling asleep in the early evening and waking up very early in the morning.
Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep
The good news is, the key to getting a good night’s sleep doesn’t change as you get older — the recommendations are the same. For most people, paying attention to good sleep hygiene helps improve the quality of sleep. This includes:
- Sticking to a regular bed time and wake time
- Creating a bedtime routine or ritual, such as brushing teeth, dimming the lights and reading
- Staying away from caffeine for at least 6 hours before bed
- Avoiding napping in the afternoon
- Reducing use of alcohol and nicotine
Another way to help improve sleep is practicing relaxation techniques. Activities such as deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation [https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/MuscleRelaxation.pdf] can help a person reduce anxiety and clear the brain to fall asleep.
Be Aware of Medical Issues
If you or a loved one is experiencing insomnia or trouble sleeping, trying the above techniques can be a first step. But it is important to realize there might be physical conditions that get in the way of sleep, such as restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea or GERD. These issues are often treated with medication.
It is important to discuss your sleep habits with your physician, and find the treatment or plan that is best for you.