Insomnia is one of the most prevalent sleep disturbances among the elderly and can affect up to 50% of people aged 60 years and older. A good night’s sleep is not only needed for a bright and happy demeanor at the breakfast table but getting enough shut-eye is essential for your overall health and well-being.
During sleep is when the body repairs itself to make sure that you’re fit and ready for another day. Prolonged periods of insomnia in the elderly can have a significant impact on the immune system, energy, and stress levels, cognitive function, as well as making you more prone to excess weight gain and certain diseases.
There is no question that maintaining a healthy sleep cycle is just as important as your diet, exercise routine, and general lifestyle. So let’s take a closer look at 10 ways to help vanquish insomnia and help you get the sleep that you need.
Regular exercise can help to fight off stress, boost your alertness, and improve the quality of your sleep. There is no specific exercise that will help to stave off insomnia, but here are three types of exercise that can help.
If stress is what’s keeping you from a good night’s sleep then yoga might be the answer you’ve been waiting for. As well as helping to keep you limber, the relaxing stretches and poses of yoga have been shown to help improve the quality of sleep in older adults.
Basic resistance training can help to maintain and build muscle in the elderly, and building muscle has been shown to help improve the quality of sleep. Resistance training helps to improve your body composition and your cardiovascular health. Both of these can contribute to better sleep.
Strength training during the day can help you to feel energized and more relaxed during the day. This can translate to finding it easier to fall asleep at night, and making waking up in the middle of the night less likely.
Any form of exercise that gets your heart rate up such as running, swimming, cycling, or brisk walking can help to reduce the symptoms of insomnia. You should aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, but even small bouts of ten minutes each day can help to begin to improve sleep quality.
Time Your Caffeine
Everybody loves a good cup of coffee. Whether its a chat with friends, an accompaniment to a good book, or an ingrained part of your morning ritual, coffee is great! However, drinking caffeine too late in the day can play havoc with your sleep cycle.
Caffeine is a stimulant, and it can also provoke anxiety. Drinking caffeine can disrupt your sleep up to six hours after drinking it. This means if you’re planning on going to bed a 10 pm, then drinking caffeine after 4 pm is a bad idea.
Caffeine makes you mentally alert, so drinking it too closely to bedtime can keep the brain active while you’re trying to fall asleep.
There is no worse feeling than trying to fall asleep at night and not being able to get comfortable. No matter how many times you shift positions, you just can’t find the one that will see you off to sleep.
It’s important to make sure that your bedroom is dark and quiet as well as cool. The optimum temperature for sleeping is between 60ºF and 67ºF. As a general rule, when your body temperature rises you begin to feel awake and alert. When it drops you start to feel sleepy. A warm bedroom doesn’t only make it harder to cool down and fall asleep, but it increases the chances of you waking throughout the night too.
Your mattress could also be playing an unwanted part in your insomnia. If your mattress isn’t breathable and doesn’t provide the right support then its likely to make it harder for you to fall asleep and stay asleep. Finding a reliable mattress for seniors is a great way to win your battle against insomnia.
Have a Healthy Night Time Routine
We are all creatures of habit. We all have routines with which we start our days, but do you have a healthy routine to send you off to sleep at night? Your circadian rhythm is an internal clock that regulates your sleep-wake cycle. The problem is there are a number of things that can interrupt it.
It’s important to have a winding-down routine for the end of your day. This should include not eating any later than a certain time, dimming lights, and prohibiting the use of phones, televisions, and computers as you approach bedtime.
The last few hours of your waking day should be spent relaxing. Try winding down activities such as
- Reading a book
- Taking a bath
- Sipping on some chamomile tea
- Guided meditation
- Have a quick tidy up
- Plan your tomorrow
Whatever it is that helps you unwind at the end of your day, you should try and create a regular schedule for the last few hours of the day, and stick to it.
Stress is a leading contributing factor to insomnia. It might feel easier said than done, but keeping stress at bay plays a crucial part in getting a good night’s sleep. With stress comes increased cortisol levels and an elevated heart-rate. Essentially it keeps your body in an alert and ready state, which is the last thing you want when trying to wind down.
The biggest problem here is that less sleep leads to more stress the next day, which can in turn lead to even less sleep. Regular exercise, a healthy and balanced diet, spending time in nature, meditation, and some good quality you-time can all help to keep stress at bay.
Certain herbal supplements such as ashwagandha, chamomile, valerian, and lavender can be used to help fight off stress if you find yourself worrying more than you should.
Block Out the Outside World
Some people are fortunate enough to be able to sleep through anything. Others, however, can be woken the faintest of noises. The most obvious way to block out unwanted noise when you are sleeping is earplugs, but your options don’t end there.
White-noise machines are devices that mask unwanted sounds such as traffic and dogs barking and instead, they provide a more consistent and relaxing sound to help you sleep.
Another option is to soundproof your home, or at least your bedroom. This can involve hanging heavy curtains or drapes, ensuring any cracks that lead to the outside world are sealed, and even just rolling up a towel and placing at the bottom of your bedroom door.
Time Your Naps
Everyone loves a nap, they can help you power through the later hours of the day and can be an essential part of taking a little time-out for yourself. However, how long you nap for, and when you nap could be having a detrimental effect on your sleep quality.
Aim to keep your naps around 10 and 20 minutes longer. Napping for any longer can induce sleep inertia, which leaves you feeling groggy when you wake from your nap. Napping for longer periods of time can also interrupt your circadian rhythm and make it harder to fall asleep later at night.
Always try to nap in the early afternoon. Most people feel a dip in alertness between the hours of 1 pm and 3 pm. You should aim to nap in between these hours. Not too close to waking and not too close to bedtime. Napping too late in the day can make it extremely difficult to get to sleep at night.
Alcohol and Smoking
You don’t necessarily need to give up the vices you have in your life, but its important to know how they might be affecting your sleep.
Smoking cigarettes can have a detrimental effect on your sleep and lead the way to sleep disorders such as sleep apnea. Much in the same way as caffeine, nicotine is a stimulant and it can disrupt your sleep. Nicotine stays active in the system for between 8 and 48 hours so even if you only smoke one cigarette first thing in the morning you could still be affecting your sleep.
The good news is that there’s a little more leeway when it comes to drinking alcohol. You should leave at least four hours before an alcoholic drink and bedtime to reduce the negative effects drinking might have on your sleep. If you drink too close to bedtime you’re more likely to have trouble falling asleep as well as being at a larger chance of suffering from disrupted sleep.
If You Can’t Sleep, Get Up!
We’ve all done it: Trying to lie in bed while our bodies feel restless and our minds wander uncontrollably. It turns out that attempting to stay perfectly still and just fall asleep is the worse thing you could actually do when this happens.
If you’re lying in bed and, for the life in you, you just can’t fall asleep then get up and do something. You want to refrain from turning the television or getting a headstart on tomorrow’s exercise routine, but participating in a relaxing activity until you feel tired again is the best thing you can do.
Making yourself a cup of chamomile tea and sitting and reading a few pages from a book is a great way to wind back down before trying to sleep again.
What You Eat and When You Eat It
When you eat could be sabotaging your sleep, and it’s not always black and white. As a general rule, you should try and leave three hours between eating and trying to sleep. This will leave enough time for digestion to occur and the contents of your stomach will have moved into your small intestine. Eating too closely to bedtime can lead to heartburn and insomnia.
However, it can be difficult to fall asleep if you’re hungry. If this is the case then eating a nutrient-rich snack of fewer than 200 calories could help keep hunger at bay while you fall asleep. It’s vital that you avoid processed and sugary foods before bed.
It’s not just about the timing of your last meal or what you eat before bed that might be hampering your sleep though. Curbing your sugar intake throughout the day can help with sleep. Too much sugar has a direct effect on your blood sugar levels, which affects your energy levels throughout the day.
Eating sugar leads to surges and dips in energy which can have a significant impact on how you eat throughout the day, as well as the number of coffees or naps you might try and sneak in to counteract any periods of lethargy. Generally speaking, cutting down on your sugar will improve your overall health and in turn help you sleep better.
It’s also important to stay hydrated throughout the day and to avoid drinking large amounts of liquids before bed. If you try and make up for any water you haven’t drunk during the day at nighttime, then your body is just going to wake you when you need to pee!
Staving off Insomnia in the Elderly
Following these ten steps should help you well on your way to a better night’s sleep. When it comes to regulating sleep patterns and helping to fight off insomnia in the elderly, routine is key. You should make these steps part of your daily routine and overtime your sleep should improve.
If you still find it difficult to fall asleep or find your sleep frequently disrupted then its important to speak to your doctor. They can help rule out any other factors such as medication you might be taking or any underlying health issues.
Good quality sleep is a key ingredient to good health and your overall well-being, hopefully, yours will be back on track in no time.
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