There is a common misconception that when we get older our sleep will gradually get worse and worse and there is nothing you can do about that. It is true that as we age, our body clock starts to change as well. This does not mean that you cannot adapt to this change and feel more energised during the day and still get a good night’s sleep.
So what happens to our sleep as we get older?
- Our sleep hormone Melatonin gets released earlier in the day resulting in feeling more tired and sleepy earlier and also waking up earlier the next morning.
- However, the amount of Melatonin that is released is reduced as we age so you may find it more difficult to fall asleep.
- The amount of sleep you need as you get older does not decrease by much and studies have shown that people over the age of 65 require somewhere between 6-8 hours.
- If you find that you have developed snoring or have breathing pauses in your sleep, you may need to have a sleep test to rule out sleep apnea.
What can I do about it?
- Consistent bedtime and rise time are very important so try to maintain the routine of a regular sleep and rise time.
- It is easy to feel like sleeping in if you have a bad night’s sleep. But this can severely affect your ability to get to sleep that night so try to avoid this temptation. Instead, if you are feeling tired in the afternoon why not try a power nap of 20 minutes? Be sure to limit the nap to 20 minutes as by doing this you will feel more energised during the evening hours but your ability to get to sleep that night will not be affected.
- As soon as you wake up expose yourself to sunlight by opening the blinds or better yet going outside. Exposure to sunlight will make you feel more alert and less tired in the morning.
- Incontinence can affect your sleep too. Try and limit liquids in the evening and go to the toilet before going to bed so that you are not constantly waking up to use the toilet.
- Inactivity during the day can make you want to go to sleep too early and therefore wake up too early. Try being more active during the day and get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day. This has been shown to shorten the time it takes to get to sleep and increase deep sleep, giving you a more restful and longer night’s sleep.
- If you no longer go out to work, try and maintain an active social life by reaching out to family & friends. Adult education classes, volunteering or joining a senior’s social group are great ways to keep busy.
- It is important to keep your mind active as well! Spend time during the day doing tasks that work your brain (crosswords, sodoku, reading etc). This mental stimulation will actually help improve your sleep, and especially your mental wellbeing.
- As you get older you are more prone to developing medical conditions that can negatively affect your sleep. Medications such as those for heart conditions, blood pressure, asthma, diuretics, thyroid issues, depression & anxiety and corticosteroids may affect your sleep. If you feel that this is the case, contact your GP or healthcare professional.