8 Tips for Better Sleep

Written by 
Caroline Bodian
  • If you’re not sleeping well, the first thing you should try to do is get to the root of the problem and find out how to treat it.

  • One way to get better sleep is to manage your stress.

  • Having a consistent sleep schedule, one that includes winding down before bedtime, will help you sleep better.

  • Create a restful sleep environment with limited noise and light.

  • Try to avoid napping in the afternoon or evening, as this can disturb your nighttime sleep.

  • Maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine to promote a good night’s sleep. 

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol and don’t eat a large meal before bedtime.

Improved sleep

There are a number of reasons why you might not be getting enough sleep, these can include feeling sick, being in pain, or taking certain medications. In general, older adults need about 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. 

The best indicator of whether you’re getting enough sleep is how you feel in the morning. Do you feel tired, groggy, irritable, or forgetful? These could be signs you’re not getting enough sleep. While the amount of sleep needed varies from person to person, it’s important for older adults to take steps to ensure a good night’s sleep. You can do this by getting to the root of any sleep problems, creating a consistent sleep routine and restful sleep environment, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Older adults should be especially careful with their sleep habits, as lack of sleep can lead to falls or accidents.

Get to the root of the problem

The underlying cause for your insomnia may be treatable. Common causes of sleep issues include:

  • Stress or depression

  • Anxiety or worry

  • Certain medications

  • Health problems

  • A traumatic experience

  • Poor sleep environment

  • Lack of exercise

  • Lack of daytime sunlight

Health conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, nighttime heartburn, asthma, a frequent need to urinate, arthritis and pain can cause disturbances in sleep. Menopause or sleep disorders (sleep apnea, restless legs syndrome, rapid eye movement disorder, and others) can also be to blame. Moreover, your medication and its side effects may be causing sleep problems. If you think you’re not getting enough sleep due to medication or health conditions, speak to your doctor.

Manage your stress

Reduce stress levels

A racing mind could be the reason behind your sleepless nights. Stress negatively affects every aspect of our health, including our sleep. So how do you calm an overactive mind? Try to relax by focusing on something other than whatever’s causing you stress or worry. Think about a happy memory or repeat a soothing phrase.

Many Americans use over-the-counter sleep aids (melatonin or antihistamines) to fall asleep. However, even over-the-counter drugs don’t necessarily help sleep in the long term. In fact, repeated medication use can decrease the quality of your sleep. Try to address whatever’s causing your stress and speak to your doctor if you’re still not able to sleep well or long enough.

Consistency is key

Following a regular sleep schedule is one of the most essential ingredients to a solid night of sleep. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends or when you’re traveling.

Wind down before bedtime

You should also try to follow the same pre-sleep routine each night. Maybe that means having a warm cup of milk or tea before getting into bed, or taking a relaxing bath before bedtime. Meditation, mindfulness or deep breathing can also help you fall asleep.

Evaluate your sleep environment

Evaluate your sleep environment Oak Street Health

A poor sleep environment could be keeping you up. Try to create a sleep environment that promotes sleep and comfort. Make sure your room is at a comfortable temperature (not too cold or too hot) and that it’s quiet. If you have a partner who snores loudly, try using earplugs, investing in a white-noise machine or sleeping in separate beds or even separate rooms. 

Consider layering your covers, so you can throw them off or put them on as needed. You can also add an extra pillow under your neck for comfort, over your eyes or ears to shut out light and noise, or as a cushion between your legs to help with lower back pain.

Lighting is also an important factor in getting a good night of sleep. Try to use dim lighting at night before bed. Artificial lights, such as TV and computer screens can suppress melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Try to switch off your devices with screens at least one hour before bedtime. Avoid reading or playing games using a backlit device, such as a tablet or smartphone. Additionally, try to move any clocks out of view, as the light can disturb your sleep.

Another tip: only use the bedroom for sleep and sex. Try to avoid working or watching TV in your bedroom. This way your brain will only associate the bedroom with appropriate use and not all sorts of other activities.

Avoid napping, if possible

As tempting as naps can be, it’s best not to give in. Avoid naps in the late afternoon or evening as these can disturb your sleep at night. According to research, about 25 percent of older adults take naps, while only about 8 percent of younger adults indulge in a midday snooze. While a short nap early in the day may not be harmful, later naps can disrupt your sleep. Here are a few guidelines to follow if you do decide to take a nap:

  • Make sure your napping environment is comfortable, with as little noise and light as possible.

  • Take your nap early in the day. Naps closer to bedtime can disrupt your sleep.

  • The nap sweet spot” is about 15 to 45 minutes. Anything longer can make you feel groggy and unfocused.

Stay away from caffeine and alcohol

Consuming caffeinated drinks and alcohol, especially close to bedtime, is a surefire way to disturb your sleep. Caffeine in coffee, tea, chocolate and soda (especially cola) can keep you up at night. Alcohol too can disrupt your sleep. Other diet tips to help you sleep include:

  • Don’t go to bed feeling hungry. Have a light snack such as yogurt, warm milk or a low-sugar cereal.

  • Avoid foods high in sugar and refined carbs, such as white rice, white bread, fries and pasta.

  • Keep liquid intake to a minimum before bed. Try not to drink anything within an hour and a half before bedtime to avoid trips to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

Don’t have big meals or spicy food before bedtime. Aim to have a modest-sized meal at least 3 hours before you go to sleep.

Try to get some exercise

Patient exercising at home

If you want to get a night of solid sleep sometimes the trick is to get your body moving during the day. Exercise, especially aerobic activity, releases sleep-promoting chemicals in your body. If you’re unsure whether certain types of exercise are safe for you, consult with your doctor beforehand. Types of exercise you can try include:

  • Swimming, which is gentle and good for sore joints and muscles

  • Dancing, for those who want to combine exercise with a social activity

  • Golfing, for another gentle way to get the body in motion

  • Cycling or running, which can be done outdoors or on a stationary bike or treadmill

Exercise at the same time every day, but avoid doing it within 3 hours of bedtime.

Anyone who’s slept poorly knows what a night of bad sleep can do to the following day. Nobody likes to go through their day feeling irritable and forgetful. That’s why it’s essential to make sure you’re getting the sleep you need. Older adults are especially prone to waking up at night, something that happens more frequently later in life. They also spend less time in the rapid eye movement (REM) cycle, the dream phase of sleep. While this makes sleep more difficult, it can still be achieved, especially when helpful tips and techniques are applied.

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