Poor sleep habits, including a poor sleep environment and poor daytime habits, can be the main causes of sleep problems and low-quality sleep in seniors. In many cases, older adults develop these poor sleep habits over a lifetime but find they create more and more problems as they age. Fortunately, these habits are easy to improve.
Improve daytime habits for better sleep
- Be engaged. Social activities, family, and work can keep your activity level up and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep. Try volunteering, joining a seniors’ group, or taking an adult education class.
- Improve your mood. A more positive mood and outlook can reduce sleep problems. Find someone you can talk to, preferably face-to-face, about your problems and worries.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise releases endorphins that can boost mood and reduce stress, depression, and anxiety.
- Expose yourself to sunlight. Bright sunlight helps regulate melatonin and your sleep-wake cycles. Try to get at least two hours of sunlight a day. Keep curtains and shades open during the day, move your favorite chair to a sunny spot, or consider using a light therapy box to simulate daylight.
- Limit caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. All are stimulants and interfere with the quality of your sleep.
Improve daytime habits for better sleepEncourage better sleep at night
- Naturally boost your melatonin levels. Artificial lights at night can suppress your body’s production of melatonin, the hormone that makes you sleepy. Use low-wattage bulbs where safe to do so, and turn off the TV and computer at least one hour before bed.
- Don’t read from a backlit device at night (such as an iPad). If you use a portable electronic device to read, use an eReader that is not backlit, i.e. one that requires an additional light source such as a soft bedside lamp.
- Make sure your bedroom is quiet, dark, and cool, and your bed is comfortable. Noise, light, and heat can cause sleep problems. Try using an eye mask to help block out light.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex. By not working, watching TV, or using your computer in bed, you’ll come to associate the bedroom with sleep alone, so when you get into bed your brain and body get a strong signal that it’s time to nod off.
- Move bedroom clocks out of view. Anxiously watching the minutes tick by when you can’t sleep is a surefire recipe for insomnia. Light emitted from a clock, telephone or other device can also disrupt your sleep.
Keep a regular bedtime routine for better sleep
- Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same times every day, even on weekends.
- Block out snoring. If snoring is keeping you up, try ear plugs, a white-noise machine, or separate bedrooms.
- Go to bed earlier. Adjust your bedtime to match when you feel like going to bed, even if that’s earlier than it used to be.
- Develop bedtime rituals. A soothing ritual, like taking a bath or playing music will help you wind down. Relaxation and stress management techniques, such as deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, take some practice but their benefits can be substantial.
Limit your use of sleeping aids and sleeping pills. Many sleep aids have side-effects and are not meant for long-term use. Although it may be tempting to continue using them, they are crutches that only address the symptoms not the causes of insomnia. In fact, sleeping pills can often make insomnia worse in the long run. Therefore, it’s best to limit sleeping pills to situations where a person’s health or safety is threatened.
Combine sex and sleep. Sex and physical intimacy, such as hugging and massage, can lead to restful sleep.
Reduce mental stress to overcome sleep problems
- Stress and anxiety can easily get in the way of a good night’s sleep. Everyone has worries and lists of things to do, but it is important to teach yourself to let go of these thoughts when it’s time to sleep.
- Keep a journal to record worries and concerns before you retire.
- On your to-do list, check off tasks accomplished for the day, list your goals for tomorrow, and then let go!
- Listen to calming music.
- Read a book that makes you feel relaxed.
- Get a massage from a friend or partner.
- Use a relaxation technique to prepare your body for sleep.
- Seek opportunities to talk with a friend or therapist about what is troubling you.
Getting back to sleep at night
It’s normal to wake briefly during the night but if you’re having trouble falling back, the following tips may help:
Don’t stress. Try not to stress over the fact that you can’t get back to sleep, because that very stress encourages your body to stay awake. Focus on the feelings and sensations in your body instead.
Make relaxation your goal, not sleep. Try a relaxation technique such as deep breathing or meditation, which can be done without getting out of bed. Remind yourself that although they’re not a replacement for sleep, rest and relaxation still help rejuvenate your body.
Do a quiet, non-stimulating activity. If you’ve been awake for more than 15 minutes, try getting out of bed and doing a non-stimulating activity, such as reading a book. Keep the lights dim so as not to cue your body clock that it’s time to wake up, and avoid TV and computer screens.
Postpone worrying. If you wake during the night feeling anxious about something, make a brief note of it on paper and postpone worrying about it until the next day when you are fresh and it will be easier to resolve.