The online humor and amusing memes are merciless: people older than 55 wake up and provide a “damage report” from the aches or stiffness they encountered during the night. Or a good night’s sleep is defined by only having to visit the bathroom twice during a given night.
In reality, people aged 55 and older need restful, quality sleep lasting 7-9 hours just as much as they did when they were younger. Sleep quality and duration directly impacts daily energy levels. As seniors know, a lack of quality sleep can contribute to daytime irritability, feelings of depression, elevated memory challenges, or a higher risk of falling or injury.
Quality sleep is restorative. It resets our minds and bodies. Rested people often have higher quality of life.
So sleep is important at any age! People aged 55 and up may face sleep complications from chronic pain or sickness issues, so it’s important to relay these issues to your provider so you can find relief.
What can you do to promote restful sleep?
Engage in regular moderation exercise. Taking a brisk walk for at least 30 minutes three-to-four times a week can have an amazing impact on your sleep quality. Many local gyms, YMCAs, churches, and other facilities offer programs tailored for seniors and retired people. Besides getting out and getting some important exercise, such activities also offer opportunities for social fun.
Strive for a regular sleep schedule and go to bed around the same time every evening. Your body and mind operate according to what’s called a Circadian Rhythm, a 24-hour cycle that maps out your internal “clock” of wake and sleep cycles. Disrupting that cycle can cause wakefulness and lower quality of sleep.
Turn off anything that has a screen at least an hour before bedtime. That includes cell phones, televisions, game consoles, and computers. Watching devices with bright lights can delay or curtail the natural production of melatonin, which is a hormone that promotes restful and high-quality sleep. Your internal clock is set to start producing melatonin at a specific time, and watching TV can disrupt that cycle. Aligning with that internal clock also can better align your body with the internal brain messages and signals that help us stay asleep through the night.
Avoid napping in the late afternoon or early evening. Naps for older people are perfectly fine and can give us a needed reset or energy boost. However, if one naps late in the day or early evening, the nap can confuse our internal clocks as when is one’s “real” bedtime and later disrupt regular sleep.
Generally avoid drinking coffee or tea that has caffeine, cola drinks with caffeine and energy drinks after the noon meal. Even a little bit of caffeine in the late afternoon can later disrupt regular sleep and cause issues.
Prepare a space just for sleeping. Try to avoid taking your cell phone or tablet to bed with you or watching TV from bed. Getting caught up in a late movie, digital book or game can increase brain activity and disrupt the process of falling asleep.
Sometimes we find that just when we’re thinking it’s time to go to sleep, our mind starts racing with disruptive thoughts (this can also happen in the middle of the night). Where a half hour earlier we felt sleepy, our racing mind now keeps us lying there in the dark. Learning and practicing some simple relaxing breathing and mindfulness techniques can help us avoid firing up the mental race cars at night.
As mentioned, sometimes sleep is regularly disrupted by chronic pain or issues that impact us. That can include excessive worry, depression or anxiety from a variety of sources. If something like this is impacting you, let your provider know.
Board-certified in family medicine, Curtis Thill M.D. has practiced medicine in Crawford County for more than three decades.