Sleep quality can significantly affect an older adult’s physical, mental, and emotional health. Unfortunately, many of us drag through our days and don’t know how to improve our sleep.
Before we can improve sleep, we must respect its importance. Many of us admire people who claim to get by on four hours of sleep and declare sleep to be a waste of time. We want to emulate them, so we can accomplish more, and we might even feel guilty when we prioritize our own downtime.
Scientists have been studying sleep in humans and a variety of animals from deep sea mammals to insects. Although “sleep” varies dramatically between organisms (for instance dolphins shut down half of their brains at a time), circadian rhythms (regular periods of restfulness and wakefulness) are common among many animals. Since almost every animal studied sleeps in some fashion, we should assume sleep has important health benefits that should not be ignored.
Some of these benefits may include cellular repair, improving memory, and production of certain hormones and immune cells.
People with poor sleep are at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease, dementia, accidents, and increased stress. Unfortunately, these problems can cycle and escalate; for instance, poor sleep is a risk factor for dementia, and dementia is a risk factor for poor sleep.
How Can You Get a Better Night’s Sleep?
- Be active during the day. Move about as you are able. Open curtains. Spend some time outdoors.
- Avoid afternoon caffeine. Caffeine’s effects can be felt in your body for as long as five hours, meaning if you drink a 20-ounce mug at 3pm, your body is still attempting to metabolize the last of the caffeine at 8pm.
- Avoid heavy meals (and too many carbs) in the evening. This may seem counterintuitive since heavy meals and carbs make you feel sluggish and sleepy. However, indigestion, reflux, and blood sugar crashes all disrupt sleep.
- Avoid alcohol before sleep. This may also seem counterintuitive as well, since many people use alcohol to relax. However, alcohol worsens sleep apnea and disrupts REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.
- Manage stress. Rather than worrying about what you need to do tomorrow, write it down and leave it where you will find it in the morning. Then do not move from one source of stress (like your to-do list) to another (like watching the news or scrolling through other people’s drama on social media). Instead read a book, drink some herbal tea, listen to quiet music, or meditate.
- Schedule your sleep. Go to bed at the same time every night. Allow yourself an hour more time in bed than the amount of sleep you need (seven to eight hours are considered optimal for healthy middle-aged adults. Youths, advanced elderly, and people recovering from trauma often need more.)
- Wear comfortable, stretchy or loose clothing that allows easy movement.
- Turn off all sources of blue light or cover them so you cannot see them. If you need light so you can safely get to the bathroom at night, use non-LED nightlights that have a warmer glow.
- Keep the bedroom cool. Adjust your temperature with blankets you can pull on or push off without fully waking up.
- If your partner snores, both of you suffer poor sleep. Try to find solutions together. Does your partner snore less with a CPAP, or lying on his or her side, or with the head of the bed raised? If your partner refuses to take action to reduce snoring, consider sleeping in separate bedrooms.
- Try white noise (sounds that have rhythmic or equal volumes and intensities) to mask street noise or snoring partners. Purchase a sleep noise machine or play a CD of music especially designed for sleep. Another option is playing a boring, long audiobook without any exciting parts or an enthusiastic narrator.
- Manage nighttime symptoms of your health concerns. For example:
- Diabetes is a risk factor for sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome. Diabetes is also a cause of nocturia (increased nighttime urination) and can cause nocturnal hypoglycemia (blood sugar crashes during sleep). Talk with your doctor about how to manage these symptoms.
- The manic phase of bipolar disorder causes physical and mental hyperactivity that may override a person’s normal sleep cycle. On the flip side, depression may cause fragmented sleep and nightmares. Talk with your doctor about strategies to decrease these swings.
- People with chronic respiratory illnesses often suffer from feeling suffocated. Many sleep better with their heads elevated in bed or a recliner.
- People with dementia often experience sundowners, when nighttime feels like day, and they are often afraid to be alone. Try a dark, quiet room with a doll or stuffed animal for hugging on the bed.
- Talk with your medical provider about your medications. Some medications may worsen sleep quality, whereas others may make you sleepy. Also, be sure to discuss any supplements you would like to try in case they interact with any of your current medications.
If you would like to learn more about healthy and unhealthy sleep, please read Matthew Walker’s excellent book: Why We Sleep.
Advantage Home Care Can Help!
Our caregivers are here to help improve sleep for older adults in many ways! For example:
- Caregivers can open a client’s curtains in the morning to let in sunshine, and close curtains at the end of the day. Even clients with dementia will often remember that curtains are open during the day and closed at night.
- Caregivers can encourage getting out of the bed or recliner and engaging in healthy activity during the day.
- Caregivers can set a timer and gently awaken a client who naps more than an hour.
- Caregivers can prepare and serve nutritious meals.
- Caregivers can encourage a healthy bedtime routine with visual cues such as placing water on the end table, laying out pajamas, and turning down the bedcovers.
Contact us at 541-440-0933 to learn more about how we can help improve life for seniors with our personalized in-home care services in Myrtle Creek, Roseburg, Sutherlin, Winchester, Winston, and throughout southern OR.