Can’t sleep and sleep problems, as we age, are not an expected part of the human aging process. Difficulty falling asleep or always feeling like you can’t sleep is a problem for all age groups. Incorporating healthy sleep habits into your life may be just a good night’s sleep away!
First, let’s discuss what a “normal” sleep cycle involves. There are five very different sleep stages in this cycle. When you experience a good night’s sleep, your body goes through this “normal” sleep cycle about every one to two hours. This cycle is repeated about four to six times a night.
Stages of sleep
These stages in a “normal” sleep cycle ranges from stage 1 (a very light sleep)to stage four a very deep sleep. The fifth stage of sleep is when you go into REM (rapid eye movement). In this stage, your eyes, your breathing, heart beat and brain waves become increasing fast.
After your REM stage of sleep, you return to light sleep and the “normal” cycle of sleep begins again.
Sleep is important to keeping your body and mind healthy. When you can’t sleep, or have difficulty falling asleep, or having problems staying asleep you suffer.
Some side effects of poor sleep are:
- Chronic tiredness
- Feeling irritable
- Lack of energy
- Poor concentration
- Reduced attention
- Poor memory
- Prone to more frequent illnesses
- Prone to increase in mishaps
- Daytime sleepiness
- Nodding off during the day, or even while driving is a concern
- Poor response time
Healthy human aging means incorporating healthy sleep habits into our daily routine. Aging adults require six to nine hours of sleep a night. If you are experiencing poor sleep, you should first address your sleep habits.
Healthy sleep habits include:
- Following your regular routine for sleeping and waking, including weekends
- Exercise in the mid afternoon, to help you unwind. Do not exercise before going to bed, as it may cause you to have a new burst of energy and sleep impossible. If you do not regularly exercise, it is always good practice to see your physician before starting any exercise program
- Don’t go to bed after eating a big meal, or if you are hungry. The big meal before going to bed may make you feel drowsy, but, if you suffer from digestion problems, this will awaken you later. Going to bed hungry, may make you toss and turn all night.
- Avoid any form of caffeine at least six hours before going to bed. There are many products that have caffeine in them: coffee, tea, chocolate and some over the counter medications. Instead have a cup of Chamomile tea which has a calming effect and since it is a tisane contains no caffeine.
- Do not drink alcohol before going to bed. Even though alcohol may make you feel sleepy, it affects your “normal” sleep cycle and may cause poor sleep later.
- Avoid smoking. Nicotine can affect your “normal” sleep cycle.
- If you take a nap during the day, limit your afternoon siesta to just an hour. And take your afternoon nap in the early afternoon. No later.
- Use your bed for sleeping. Do not read in bed or watch TV. Use your bed for sleeping.
- Avoid stress and put your worries and concerns aside at bedtime.
Some things you should consider when addressing your healthy sleep habits:
- Assess you bedroom environment. Are there things that are disturbing your sleep? Is there too much light coming in the room? Is the temperature too hot or too cold? Is there too much noise?
- Is stress and worries keeping you up at night? Are you anxious about something that is affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep?
Suggestions for healthy human aging and healthy sleep habits:
- Use light blocking shades or blinds in the bedroom
- Wear earplugs to keep out noise
- Make sure the temperature of the bedroom is comfortable for you.
- Take a warm bath before going to bed. Making this part of a nightly ritual can help trigger sleep and help you relax.
- Listen to quiet music or read under a soft light before going to bed.
- Incorporate stress reduction or relaxation exercises to your daily routine. Stress, anxiety and worry are the number one sleep robbers.
- Drink some warm milk before bedtime. It really may help you sleep!
If you find you still cant sleep after reviewing your sleep habits, you should consult with your physician or health care provider about a sleep disorder. Human aging and healthy sleep habits will promote a better quality of life and physical and mental health as well!