Why Sleep Is Important for Seniors and How to Get a Better Night's Rest
Sleep is as important for your health as exercise and diet. But many older adults don’t get enough sleep. The reasons vary from health issues and medications to a weakened bladder and arthritis pain. A change in your circadian rhythm could also be a factor, making you sleepy earlier in the evening and waking you up earlier the next day. Whatever the reason, not getting enough sleep (about 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night) is bad for your health.
The downside of insufficient sleep
If you count yourself among the sleep-deprived, you know how dull it can make you feel. Your thinking isn’t clear, your energy level’s low, and you’re just not your normal, cheerful self. You’re also more likely to fall or have an accident.
Fatigue has been linked to accidents large and small. Driving while drowsy slows reaction time as much as drunken driving does. And lack of sleep has led to human errors resulting in some of the biggest environmental disasters in recent decades, including Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
Not getting enough sleep on a regular basis also raises the risk of many diseases and disorders, ranging from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia.
The importance of sleep for seniors
You know how much better you feel when you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Your mood is brighter, your energy level is higher, and you feel better equipped to take on the day.
While you were sleeping, your brain was working — removing toxins that build up throughout the day so it can function at its best when you wake up. Learning, memory, problem-solving, creativity, decision-making, focus and concentration are all improved with a good night’s sleep.
In addition, sleep helps restore almost every tissue in your body. Muscles, the cardiovascular system, immune system, appetite, and growth and stress hormones are all affected by sleep. Studies also reveal that sleep can affect the efficiency of vaccinations. Well-rested people who received the flu vaccine, for example, developed stronger protection against the illness.
How to get a better night’s rest
As you get older, your sleeping patterns change. Older adults tend to sleep more lightly, take longer to fall asleep, and sleep for shorter time spans than younger adults. Older adults also tend to wake up multiple times during the night.
That doesn’t mean older adults need less sleep than they did in midlife. But they may have to be more disciplined in their approach to sleep. The consequences of insufficient sleep — including increased risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke and depression — are too great to ignore.
If you’re tossing and turning every night, try these tips to improve your sleep.
10 tips for healthy sleep
Stick to a sleep schedule. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day.
Exercise daily. But not close to bedtime.
Go outside. Daylight is key to regulating sleep patterns. Try to get natural sunlight for at least 30 minutes every day.
Avoid caffeine late in the day. Caffeine can take up to 8 hours to wear off.
Don’t take naps after mid-afternoon. And keep them short.
Avoid alcohol and large meals before bedtime. Both can prevent deep, restorative sleep.
Limit electronics before bed. Try reading a book, listening to soothing music, or another relaxing activity instead.
Create a good sleeping environment. Keep the temperature cool if possible. Get rid of sound and light distractions. Make it dark. Silence
your cell phone.
Don’t lie in bed awake. If you can’t fall asleep after 20 minutes, get up and do a relaxing activity until you feel sleepy again.
- See your health care provider if nothing you try helps. They can determine if you need further testing. They can also help you learn new ways to manage stress.
Don’t snooze on our health and wellness channel.
For more tips on how to get a good night’s sleep, check out the videos on Live Life Well® TV, our health and wellness channel. It’s a treasure trove of expert health tips, self-improvement topics, fun facts, and discussions with the executive staff at RCM.