You’ve likely already heard many times how important it is to get enough sleep. insufficient sleep results in daytime fatigue, memory problems and depression. And as people get older, they become more susceptible to various sleep-related health problems, including narcolepsy, restless legs syndrome and insomnia.
Even if you don’t have a specific health problem, sleep can still be disrupted if you’re under a lot of stress or are taking certain medications. Sleep and aging are intrinsically linked, and most senior sleep problems can be improved with some simple lifestyle changes.
1. Get Active During the Day
Exercise offers a multi-pronged approach to helping people sleep. Working up a sweat is a fantastic way to reduce stress. When you exercise, you raise your body’s natural temperature. As you cool down and rest afterward, your body temperature drops, triggering sleepiness.
There are many different exercises older adults can do to reap the benefits. Walking or jogging outside is a great option because it gives your body an opportunity to absorb sunlight, which gives you needed vitamin D, which plays a critical part in maintaining healthy sleep cycles. Additionally, strength training moves such as lunges, squats and shoulder presses, also appear to aid people in getting to sleep, regardless of what time of day the exercise took place.
2. Make Sure to Get Your Vitamin D
As mentioned above, you can get some of the vitamin D you need from sunlight. What you may not know is that it’s also important to eat a diet rich in the nutrient. Without enough of the vitamin, senior sleep problems can become more prevalent, and sufferers are more likely to experience sleep disturbances. Numerous foods are rich in vitamin D, including:
- Egg yolks
You can find out whether they have a vitamin D deficiency by undergoing a simple blood test. Excessive sweating, unexplained muscle weakness and constant pain are just a few of the symptoms a person suffers from a deficiency. Low levels of vitamin D are also linked with osteoporosis, so getting more of the vitamin in your diet does more than just help you sleep better.
Occasionally, all you’ll need for a better night’s sleep is to take a few minutes out of the day to unwind and meditate. In fact, Dana Diament, a senior instructor at Yoga Medicine, says that “By tuning into our breath or using a mantra in meditation, we are gently coaxing the body to relax. This then signals to the body that there is no more danger and no need to be alert.”
You can get started by choosing a calming focal point, such as breathing in and out slowly. Choose a phrase to repeat throughout the meditation. It can be something simple, such as “I am at peace.” Finally, allow your mind to relax and let go.
4. Try Therapy
Insomnia is not uncommon among aging adults. Sleeplessness is often caused by negative thoughts, and there is a solution available that does not require prescription medication. Cognitive behavior therapy can be a big help for older adults and is recommended highly by Michael Breus, PhD, a sleep doctor and author who has written at length about therapy’s impact on insomnia.
“Several studies investigating the cost of CBT for insomnia show that this form of insomnia treatment is both therapeutically effective and also cost-effective,” Breus writes. “ CBT for insomnia reduces health care utilization and health care costs, according to…research.”
Therapy addresses the root cause of insomnia rather than merely treat the symptoms, which is often the case with medication. Therapy may not work for everyone, but is worth looking into.
5. Stay Away From Blue Light
Blue light refers to the light emitted by many electronic devices, including tablets, cell phones and laptops. In the past, people’s circadian rhythms remained in sync with the Earth’s rotation because they would experience bright sunlight during the day and total darkness at night, signaling it was time to go to bed. However, many people continue staring at blue light at night, sometimes minutes before trying to fall asleep.
“Many seniors experience poor sleep because their circadian rhythm is out of synchrony with the earth’s rotation,” said Richard Hansler, PhD, founded LowBlueLights.com, which offers blue-free lighting products and specialized sleep glasses. “To reset their internal clocks they need to expose their eyes to lots of light during the morning and throughout the day. They also need to avoid light, especially blue light in the hours before bedtime.”
Avoiding blue light will help the body produce melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep and wake cycles, he says. Instead of staring at a computer or cell phone screen before bed, it’s a better idea to grab a book, work on a puzzle, or another low-tech diversion.