Finding it harder to sleep as you age? There may be sound reason. Older adults experience changes in circadian rhythm which can disrupt the sleep cycle, not to mention the onset of medical conditions that interfere with sleep. But seniors still need plenty of shuteye–seven to nine hours, according to the National Sleep Foundation–and trying to get it can be a nightmare. Fortunately, sleepless seniors can say goodnight to their insomnia woes by adopting some simple sleep-promoting habits during the day. Try these nine tips, and make restful nights a dream come true.
Studies have shown that early risers tend to have better sleep patterns. They go to bed earlier, sleep more deeply, and wake up feeling rested and refreshed. Plus, rising early alleviates the stress of rushing in the morning, allows more time for a healthy breakfast, and improves the chances of getting daily exercise–all which boost the likelihood of a good night’s sleep.
Although daytime napping is a common occurrence for senior adults, it can do more harm than good for insomnia sufferers. Naps tend to offset sleep schedules and cause more difficulty falling or staying asleep at night. If you must nap for a medical or other health reason, try to limit daytime sleeping to no more than 30 minutes, preferably in the early afternoon.
Mindfulness meditation has many sleep-promoting benefits, from decreasing daytime fatigue so you’ll have more energy for exercise to lowering stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is particularly helpful for older adults with physical impairments since you use your mind rather than the body to induce a state of relaxation. The best part? It only takes 20 minutes a day to meditate.
Move Your Body
Research suggests that aerobic exercise is particularly useful for improving sleep in older adults, but that doesn’t mean you have to get your heart pumping every day to get your z’s. Any activity that involves moving your body encourages better sleep. Puttering in the garage, light housecleaning, or even standing and bending through the day help bring the sandman at night.
Drink with Diligence
Alcohol is known to disrupt sleep at any age, but for seniors, imbibing can make a restful night even more challenging. That’s because alcohol breaks down more slowly as you age, causing greater side effects, including increased insomnia. Limit drinking to a glass of wine with dinner, and avoid drinking anything too close to bedtime, when an aging bladder can keep you up.
Be Wary of Sleep Meds
Although sleep medication is meant to improve sleep, often it does just the opposite. The American Geriatrics Society warns against sleeping pills because they can have more serious side effects for seniors, including confusion, memory loss, dependency, and a higher risk of falls. Try natural medicine instead, like practicing good sleep hygiene or cognitive behavioral therapy.
Yoga combines stretching, poses, balance, and breathing for better overall health–and sleep. Not only does practicing yoga during the day make it easier to sleep at night, you’ll stay asleep longer. Gentle yoga classes, like Iyengar yoga, are easy to learn and especially suitable for senior adults, but you might also consider adaptive yoga practices, such as water or chair yoga.
Make Dinner Sleep-Friendly
Older adults are more susceptible to tummy troubles, including acid reflex, that keep you awake at night–which is why it’s important to eat responsibly at dinnertime. Choose foods that are gentle on the stomach and eat early so your body has time to digest the meal. But don’t go to bed hungry. A sleep-inducing snack of nuts, cherry juice, or cereal can help lull you to slumber.
Give Yourself a Break
Putting too much pressure on yourself to sleep will only make it worse. Rather than focusing on what you can’t control, concentrate on what you can–taking care of your body and mind with healthy behaviors, like eating right, getting regular exercise, and engaging in daily social interaction. And always consult a doctor or sleep therapist for insomnia that becomes chronic.
When sleep doesn’t come during the senior years, remember this: you’re not alone. You’re also not doomed. Adopt these sleep-promoting habits during the day so you can enjoy restful nights–and an active, full life ahead.