Sleep is one of the most important aspects of health. Getting enough rest is essential for everything from day-to-day functioning to mental acuity. While exact recommendations vary by age and gender, it’s recommended that adults over 65 typically get 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
How Does Age Impact How We Sleep?
Sleep patterns change with normal aging. People tend to get fewer hours of sleep due to REM sleep cycles becoming shorter. Other natural disruptions may also play a role, like a more frequent need to urinate.
But it’s more than possible to get great sleep as we age — it just takes thoughtful planning and preparation.
Tips for Getting Good Rest
The following tips can help you enhance the quality of your sleep. While they’re specific to older adults, most of them can apply to any age group — and there’s no age where sleep isn’t a priority.
- Establish a pattern that you stick to: Structure is key — the best way to sleep well is by developing a consistent routine. You should aim to go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning, and you should have routines on both ends that you look forward to. Before bed, this could mean a bath and a book; in the morning, maybe its stretching and breakfast. Whatever it is, consistency is essential. Even if you go to bed later than usual one night, you should still wake up at your usual time the following morning.
- Avoid large amounts of fluid after dinner and cut all caffeine after noon: Titrating fluid and caffeine lessens nighttime trips to the bathroom (which doctors refer to as nocturia). If you’re urinating frequently and not drinking lots of fluids, it could indicate a urological problem that should be looked into by your doctor.
- Avoid alcohol: Studies have found that drinking before bed produces a breathing pattern that resembles those with sleep apnea — even in people without it. While it’s not necessary to cut out alcohol altogether if it’s something you enjoy in moderation, limiting it will improve your sleep quality.
- Avoid sleep medications: Unless your physician recommends that you take sleep medication for a short period of time, they should be avoided. In older adults, they’ve been found to cause confusion and memory problems and may increase fall risk.
→ If you must take something to sleep, use a natural supplement like Melatonin, which has shown promising results around improving sleep with minimal disruptions.
- Sleep in as dark a room as possible: While it can be hard to resist electronics entirely, make it a practice to not use them right before going to bed to improve sleep quality. If you’re planning to read as part of your sleep routine, it’s best to read a physical book instead of reading on an iPad or kindle.
- Avoid stimulating media before bed: Save science fiction and horror movies for another time. Consuming stimulating content makes it harder to relax.
- Take medications that might be stimulating in the morning: If you think any of your medications may be keeping you awake, ask your physician if you can switch to taking them in the morning instead of at night.
- Use an app like Sleep Cycle for waking up: Sleep Cycle wakes you during light sleep instead of REM sleep, making for a gentler wake-up.
- If you need noise, turn to white noise or music: For those who fall asleep better with some background noise, playing white noise or gentle music is preferable to TV or radio. We recommend Snooz’s white noise machine.
Stay Aware to Prevent Nighttime Falls
One of the biggest dangers as we age is falling while walking to the bathroom at night. We recommend having at least two motion-activated night lights in the bedroom in the event you need to get up in the middle of the night, like this GE LED Motion Sensor Night Light. We also recommend adding motion-activated lighting under your bed to ensure light as soon as your feet hit the ground, like the Megulla Activated Lighting.
Make sure your bedroom, hallways, and bathroom are set up well. Visit our Home + Living section for tips on safety-proofing your space.
Mornings are Critical
Creating good morning practices are just as important as winding down well. Here are some tips:
- Wake up at the same time every day: If you get to sleep later than you would like, still wake up at your usual time the following morning. This will result in sleep deprivation, which is a positive tool for resetting your sleep cycle.
- Get out of bed slowly: Our blood pressure can drop when we sleep, so getting out of bed too quickly can lead to light-headedness that elevates your risk of falling. It’s best to get out of bed carefully and slowly. For some people, low blood pressure can be improved with upper extremity exercises before getting out of bed, like repeatedly making a fist or flexing the biceps or triceps.
- Don’t stay in pajamas: No matter what you’re planning to do for the day, it’s important to get out of pajamas when you wake up and change into regular clothes to provide a sense of structure.
Insomnia is a Symptom
Insomnia or sleep disturbance can be a sign of many things, and should be treated as a symptom that you and your physician can investigate the root cause of. Causes can range from depression to new medications, so it's important to be thorough.
Anyone with a serious sleep disorder should have a sleep study arranged by a physician. Most local hospitals have a sleep lab that performs these studies with a pulmonologist and/or a neurologist.
If You’re Changing Time Zones, Prepare in Advance
If you’ll be traveling across time zones, you should begin to adjust your sleep schedule to the new time zone 2-3 days before you leave to make the adjustment easier.
Additionally, it’s important to look closely at potential fall risks when you’re sleeping in a new place like a hotel — check carpeting, lighting, and beyond. You should bring any sleep tools with you to keep your routine as steady as possible, including a portable night light or path light. When traveling overseas, we like these battery-operated lights so that you don’t have to worry about finding a compatible outlet.