We have heard a lot of senior people saying that they sleep less than they used to earlier. Sleep is equally important for the elderly as for the young. Sleep helps to develop both your physical and mental well-being. Older people too need at least 7 hours of good sleep to be mentally and physically fit.
How Sleep Changes as you Age
Melatonin is the hormone secreted by the pineal gland in our body. This hormone is responsible for making us feel sleepy. It also lowers our body temperature. Its production starts in the body in the evening and rises to its peak before bedtime, this is called Dim-light Melatonin onset (DLMO). Secretion of melatonin is inhibited by light.
In newborns, the melatonin levels are low hence they do not sleep at night. It takes about 3 months for the melatonin levels to reach normal levels. Hence their sleep cycle regularizes after this age. In adolescents the melatonin levels release is delayed, leading to late sleeping habits. While in older people the melatonin levels are low and released earlier and, hence they sleep early and wake up early. Since the melatonin levels are low at an older age the older people are light sleepers with fragmented sleep.
Common Cause for Insomnia and Sleep Problems in Adults
- Pain or medical conditions: Health conditions like arthritis, frequent urination, nighttime heartburn, asthma, etc may interfere with the sleep. These need to addresses well.
- Menopause or post menopause: Hot flashes and profuse night sweating experienced by lot of women during menopause may cause disturbance in sleep.
- Lack of exercise: If you have a sedentary-lifestyle you may either be sleepy and lazy the entire day or may not feel sleep at all. It is good to indulge in light aerobic activity during the day time to get a good night’s sleep.
- Stress: Changes in lifestyle like loss of a loved one, retirement, change of house, etc may cause stress and anxiety. This may result in lack of sleep.
- Lack of social engagement: It is good to have friends to discuss matters close to heart. It is never to late to start afresh. Start by nodding and saying a hello to neighbors.
- Sleep disorders: sleep disorder breathing such as snoring or sleep apnea may be disturbing for you or for your partner.
- Lack of sunlight: Sunlight helps to regulate melatonin and your sleep- wake cycle. Try to get at least 2 hours of sun light daily.
Improving Sleep Habits
- Boost your melatonin naturally: Bright lights in the house at night suppress the production of melatonin. Use low watt bulbs in evening.
- Don’t read from a backlit device: If you like to read use a bulb behind your head or an e book reader which requires an artificial source of light. Avoid computers and I-pads.
- Bedroom hygiene: Spread clean bedsheets, have dim lights in the bedroom. Keep mobiles and TV outside the bedroom to avoid sound and disturbance.
- Maintain Ideal temperature: Bedroom temperature should be ideal for sleeping comfortably.
- Bedtime routine: Try to maintain a schedule your bedtime and daily sleep at the same time.
- Exercise before sleep: Muscle relaxation, mindful meditation, breathing exercise help to sleep well.
- Sleeping Posture: Keeping pillows under your legs or giving support to your back might do the magic of putting you to sleep.
- Having someone to sleep beside: Holding hands of your partner or a friend in the bed helps to get a good sleep.
- Bedtime rituals: Taking a bath, brushing your teeth, playing soft music can help to get to bed and fall asleep.
- Avoid caffeine before bedtime: Avoid drinking caffeine after evening as that interferes with the sleep cycle.
- Avoid alcohol close to bedtime: Alcohol actually disrupts sleep than putting you to sleep.
- Satisfy hunger before bedtime: Do not try to go to bed on an empty stomach. If required have a glass of warm milk or a fruit before sleeping.
- Cut down sugary foods: Eating carbs and high sugar foods can keep you awake at night.
- Avoid spicy food at night: Spicy food at night may cause indigestion and nighttime heartburn. It is better to avoid them.
- Minimize liquid intake before bed: Drinking lot of fluid close to bedtime may result in frequent urination through out the night. This may result in disturbed sleep.
Whatever be your age, all need to sleep well for a minimum of 7 to 8 hours a day. If you have tried all tricks to sleep well and are still suffering from disturbed sleep, it is time to see a therapist or a doctor for treatment. Disturbed sleep even at the age of 65 and above can take a toll on your health and mood.